GAA Football

Serious grassroots emerging in Derry believes skipper Chrissy McKaigue

Derry will meet Leitrim in Saturday's Division Four final, with the Oak Leafers having won the first meeting in Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

DERRY captain Chrissy McKaigue feels that “serious grassroots are starting to emerge” in the Oak Leaf county.

The Slaughtneil man has played in all four divisions of the National League in his inter-county career, and this Saturday will lead them out in the Division Four final against a Leitrim side whose rise has been one of the big spring stories in GAA.

Having suffered a surprise drop out of the third tier last year, Derry have won all seven games so far this year under Damian McErlain with what is largely a new-look team.

He has drafted in a big number of the minor players that came through in his three years in charge at the grade, during which time they reached three consecutive Ulster finals, winning two, and an All-Ireland final.

While he sees the biggest difference between the top tier and bottom as the “physical attributes, the level of athleticism,” he feels the raw materials exist in Derry to claim silverware this weekend for a start.

“You look at the Tyrones, Dublins, Mayos, Kerrys, they’re four teams that are physically and athletically out by a fair stretch in my opinion.

“Then again, you have a scary combination when you mention those four and the fact that they’ve all serious footballing ability, a serious understanding of the game, and you mix that in with their physical attributes.

“At the same time, from Derry’s perspective – and that’s all I’m concerned about – there are serious grassroots starting to emerge all over the county.

“We’re seeing the influx starting to come of a seriously talented group of U20s. We’ve really good teams below that again, and if those players are nurtured and looked after properly then Derry could be a really strong senior team once more.

“It’s short-term goals for us at the minute, and we really do understand this game on Saturday is massively important.

“Any time you have a chance to compete for silverware, from a psychological point of view it’s important that you take that opportunity and produce your best performance on the biggest days.”

You wouldn’t have been given great odds for Derry to win all seven league games before it began such was the expectation on them in pre-season.

There have been bits and pieces of performances since the narrow one-point win over Antrim on the opening day, and McKaigue feels that the mere taste of winning has had a positive impact.

“Probably we have got the most out of the league in terms of the unavailability of players and the fact that the leagues now have become a lot more difficult to navigate.

“It maybe hasn’t been ideal in the sense that we haven’t got too many performances that we feel we’re capable of, but in saying that, when you look at the league table you see seven wins out of seven.

“Ok, Division Three was a tougher division last year but I’m a firm believer that winning is a mentality and, at the very least, the mentality this year has been shifted away from what it was last year.

“We just couldn’t catch a break last year. When we played well in spurts, we still managed to get beat.

“This year we’ve managed to win games not necessarily playing the best. We’ve found a way to dig it out.

“With all due respect, people might think Division Four is very weak compared to other divisions, but I’ve had the advantage of playing in all four divisions at this stage and I’ll tell you now, some of the grounds you go to, some of the teams you play against, it’s every bit as challenging as some of the teams in the top division.

“It just presents a very, very different challenge. We’d be hoping we produce our best performance of the year on Saturday, and hopefully all the omens are that we have a chance of doing that.”

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