GAA Football

Derry football structures must change to improve - Karl McKaigue

Francis Mooney

All stake-holders in Derry football must work together to drag the county out of a crisis, according to Karl McKaigue.

The Oak Leafers have tumbled in successive seasons from Division One to the bottom tier of gaelic football's league standings.

Experienced defender McKaigue says there's no easy fix, and all aspects of the game, particularly the perennial club v county issue, must be addressed.

"It's something we have to look at as a county as a whole, within the structures at under-age, the schools, the county structures, club structures," he said.

"Something has obviously gone wrong, for Derry to slide in the space of four seasons from Division One to Division Four.

"We find ourselves in Division Four after a poor league campaign this year.

"At the start of the season, a lot of bookies were tipping Derry as the favourites to get out of Division Three, but for whatever reason, we found ourselves in the next tier down."

The Slaughtneil star senses a move in the desired direction, with a club fixtures programme designed to assist the work of the county team.

"In relation to club and county, there has been a lot of debate in terms of fixtures over the past few years, especially around Ulster Championship time.

"Say Derry were to lose the first round of the Ulster Championship and go into the Qualifiers, there would be a lot of lads thinking, 'Ach, Derry aren't going to do much this year', and they would be dropping away from the county panel.

"Obviously that's going to hurt any panel, if it's going to lose any players, even fringe players, because you lose out in the quality of your training.

"But this year the fixtures have been re-arranged. There's going to be a big break now for county players leading in to the Ulster Championship, so hopefully we'll keep everybody on board, keep the whole thing together and try to get a few performances going."

McKaigue accepts that the success of his own club contributed to the difficulties of the county team.

Half a dozen quality players missed most of the NFL campaign due to their involvement in Slaughtneil's extended Ulster and All-Ireland campaigns.

"Lucky enough we were involved in a club season that went on maybe too long, in the eyes of other people, because it leads into the county season and takes away from Derry.

"It is a big hit on the county scene, especially when you have six or seven involved in the panel.

"And as well as that, with a few injuries and suspensions, you soon find your county team gets quite decimated, especially in Derry, where the pool of players isn't as big as other counties.

"Were the players that were available enough to keep Derry in Division Three? They probably were, but still, for whatever reason, it didn't happen, and it can't be put down to one thing or another. I think it's a combination of things, and not just this year, but in years gone past.

"But that's what we're trying to iron out, and that's where the Derry county board are taking the necessary steps to try and stop."

Derry will be the last team to enter the Ulster Championship this year.

They face the winners of the preliminary round clash between Donegal and Cavan, and McKaigue is hoping a successful opener could re-ignite a flame that has been barely a flicker so far this year.

"A championship run would do wonders. The two words 'Division Four' will soon drift away once we were to string back-to-back wins in the championship.

"But that's easier said than done, and at this stage we're just looking at putting in a performance in our first round game, and hopefully that's enough to take us over the line. And if it is, then we can maybe worry about a run from there.

"Donegal and Cavan are two sides that have performed pretty well this year. I know Donegal were relegated, but they were very competitive in all their games, especially against Dublin and Galway.

"Both teams are going to be difficult, and we would have no preference in who we are going to play.

"At this stage, we're more focused on what Derry are going to do. Can we bring some sort of performance to the Ulster Championship, because it's certainly overdue at this stage."

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