GAA Football

Shane McGuigan: new split season format gets thumbs up from Derry ace

Derry's Shane McGuigan evades Jack Kennedy of Tipperary during the Allianz Football League match at Celtic Park, Derry on Sunday February 9 2020. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Michael McMullan

Derry forward Shane McGuigan thinks the GAA's split season format is the way forward.

The 23-year-old primary school teacher spearheaded Derry's first minor title in 13 years in 2015.

The Slaughtneil man has played 26 times at senior level for the county since Damian Barton gave his debut as substitute in their Ulster SFC defeat to Tyrone in 2017.

McGuigan said Derry CCC handled the new format 'perfectly' after Covid-19 forced the season to be re-structured.

“Derry were one of the few county boards that maximised their 12-week window, it was something we were more than grateful for,” McGuigan stated.

McGuigan is one of 13 of Slaughtneil's senior football panel that played football or hurling for Derry last year.

Karl McKaigue missed last season with a torn Achilles tendon and is currently rehabbing.

Christopher Bradley is no longer part of Rory Gallagher's plans, with Gerald Bradley and the Cassidy brothers – Shea and Brian – joining the new provisional hurling squad.

“When we come back to the club, it gives us the opportunity to really focus on just the club,” McGuigan points out.

“When you are dipping into both camps, at different times, you are not really fully committing to both. I do think it is the way forward.”

With the GAA scrapping the provincial and All-Ireland Club Championships, Slaughtneil were not able to defend their Ulster hurling title or make a stab at a fourth Ulster football championship.

McGuigan has come to accept it now and the club have parked it, as they look ahead to 2021.

“Other clubs were in the same position,” was his take on their disappointment.

“Kilcoo were defending Ulster champions in football. There was no Corofin, so I am sure other clubs are aggrieved by the decision to not to play the All-Ireland series, but I am sure 2020 is a season a lot of people will want to put behind them.”

When the NFL kicks off, Derry will be paired in Division 3 'North' with Ulster champions Cavan, Fermanagh and Longford.

Derry will need to to finish in the top two after three games, played on a round robin basis, to have a chance of going one better than 2019 and gaining promotion.

“I am sure I speak on behalf of the team...we can't wait to challenge ourselves against the best,” said McGuigan, who feels Derry are in the 'stronger half' of the division.

“Cavan were deserving winners of Ulster, you can't take that away from them. I am the type of person, I love playing against the best, so you have to look forward to it.”

The new tiered championship, something McGuigan doesn't agree with, adds more spice to the season.

Unless Derry reach at least an Ulster final or get promoted, they won't be given an opportunity to challenge for Sam Maguire and will play in the Tailteann Cup.

“That puts a different focus on the league this year,” McGuigan added.

“We only took a point out of the first two games (in 2019) and now you have less games. So you need to start well in the league, it just proves that every game you are playing in is going to mean something.”

Following the GAA's decision to scrap the Sigerson Cup, McGuigan also spoke of the uniqueness of the competition.

After missing his early seasons due to club commitments, he led the attack for St Mary's on the way to their 2019 final defeat at the hands of UCC.

“It is such a unique competition,” he said. “You are playing with boys from all over the province. There is not that added pressure to really win, you are really enjoying your football.

“It will be a miss to a lot of people. It is a unique brand of football, there is not the same level of tactics as there isn't the same amount of time spent with each other.”

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