"Slaughtneil hurlers deserve respect after third Ulster crown" - Karl McKaigue
KARL McKaigue says there is more to the Slaughtneil hurlers than brawn and believes the cynics will have to respect the Derry champions now for winning three of the last four Ulster titles.
Following Sunday's comprehensive eight-point victory over a fancied Dunloy side in Newry, the teak-tough corner-back echoed the sentiments of his manager Michael McShane who was clearly miffed at the perception that the Derry champions didn’t possess sufficient hurling skill to be respected as provincial champions.
“You’re always going to get that when you’re coming out of Derry,” said McKaigue. “It’s not a strong hurling county and people are always going to look at the likes of Antrim and the clubs in north Antrim, but that’s three Ulster titles in four years now and people are going to have to respect that.
“The criticism before this final probably did motivate us a wee bit. As Mickey said to us before the game that this was our fourth Ulster final in five years and each time we’ve been in the Ulster final we’ve hurled well. When we’ve lost we’ve been very unlucky.
“But to just say we were there because of our physicality and our athleticism, I think, is a wee bit of a kick in the teeth because we have some fantastic hurlers in our team.”
Despite their dominance, Slaughtneil only led Dunloy by two points at the break before they opened up a bigger gap in the second period.
McKaigue added: “If you look at the stats of the first half I think we played them off the park, we just weren’t putting it on the scoreboard. At the end there were seven or eight points in it but in all honesty there could have been a wee bit more.”
While their front six and two midfielders got on the score-sheet in Sunday’s final, Slaughtneil’s victory was undoubtedly grounded in their incredible defensive solidity, with McKaigue keeping Dunloy danger man Conal Cunning firmly under wraps.
Shane McGuigan was equally impressive in containing Keelan Molloy while Meehaul McGrath saw off the challenge of Nigel Elliott – sent off on 40 minutes - who was one of Dunloy’s key forwards in their semi-final win over Ballycran.
“It’s nice to have a point to prove and to have that wee extra incentive,” he said. “That was our best performance this year by quite a bit.”
The fact that the Slaughtneil footballers crashed out of the senior championship in early October gave McShane’s squad the best preparation for hurling honours over the last seven seasons.
“Being out of the football, we’ve definitely seen the benefit of it,” McKaigue acknowledged.
“Now, we still wanted to be in the football until whatever stage you can be in it. We went out of the Derry senior championship at the semi-final stages [losing to Glen] and that gave us six weeks for purely hurling, which is something I can’t remember ever having.
“So it was nice getting the touch up to speed and getting plenty of hurling two or three times a week as well as a wee bit of fitness work, and it probably did stand to us."
In their two previous attempts, the Slaughtneil hurlers have yet to get beyond the All-Ireland semi-final stages, losing to Cuala and Na Piarsaigh, respectively.
In the first week in January they’ll collide with the champions of Leinster which is still at the semi-final stages.
“Any time you get to an All-Ireland semi-final you’re there on merit,” McKaigue said.
“We’re going to come up against the Leinster champions, so you’re maybe looking at Ballyhale Shamrocks.
“We’re always going to be underdogs no matter what province we’re playing, but we’ll give it whatever shot we can, prepare as well as we possibly can and go down and hopefully we can give them some sort of challenge.”