'Siege mentality' fired Slaughtneil back to Ulster hurling summit
By Paul Keane
Chrissy McKaigue has admitted that a 'siege mentality' and a sense that they weren't fully credited for past achievements drove Slaughtneil back to the summit of Ulster hurling.
The powerhouse south-Derry outfit are preparing to face AIB All-Ireland club title holders Ballyhale Shamrocks in the semi-finals on Sunday, their reward for a third provincial success in four seasons.
Throw in Slaughtneil's seven-in-a-row of wins within Derry and you'd imagine most would agree with dual star McKaigue's assertion that they're 'one of the best Ulster hurling teams around'.
Not so according to the Derry football captain who admitted he and his club hurling colleagues felt they had to prove themselves all over again.
"We felt we owed it to ourselves to show what we were truly about in Ulster," said McKaigue. "To beat Dunloy in the final was a nice one and to win a third provincial hurling crown in four years was probably a fitting conclusion to the year because we felt that we probably hadn't got the respect that we probably deserved for what we'd achieved prior to that.
"The first year we beat Loughgiel (2016), it was that we almost caught Loughgiel on the hop. The second year we won back-to-back, granted, but the third year, because of the way it panned out, we let ourselves down a wee bit but then we have relatively small numbers and we were injury plagued and probably getting beaten in the football for the first time in four years, all of those things tallied up."
McKaigue said it wasn't the club's intention to stick it to their critics in 2019 but admitted the players increasingly began to feel that way.
"I suppose creating the siege mentality is not something we initially set out to do but it probably did no harm to create that type of environment, it gave us a wee bit of an edge but I think for our group of players it was more about creating a bit more history and probably consolidating our part now as one of the best Ulster hurling teams around," he said.
"To win three in four years is not something too many clubs can boast, irrespective of if they're from Derry, Down or Antrim, so that was important to us and now that we've achieved that, it's nice but look, the biggest task, as I've said for the last number of years, is to try to make a mark at national level."
The problem for Slaughtneil is that they've consistently drawn the short straw once out of Ulster. They ran into Cuala, who would go on to become back to back All-Ireland winners, in the semi-finals in early 2017 and Na Piarsaigh of Limerick the following year. This time it's Ballyhale, the Henry Shefflin managed Kilkenny outfit who have current All-Stars TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly up front along with Young Hurler of the Year Adrian Mullen.
"Once we face Ballyhale, no matter how it goes, we can say that we've faced three of arguably the greatest club hurling teams in the last 15 years, that wouldn't be unfair to say," said McKaigue.
Yet the 30-year-old former Sydney Swans Aussie Rules player isn't throwing in the towel before the game has even begun.
"I think we're in a better place now, more experienced and the age profile of our team is better," he said. "We've unearthed a couple of underage players that have come through, whether that's good enough to beat Ballyhale, I can't answer that right now but I can say we're in a better place than we were against Na Piarsaigh and on another day we might have been good enough to do it.
"But we had injuries that day too and there was sickness in the camp, whether we'd have beaten Na Piarsaigh anyway I don't know but I'd like to think that this year we might get a little bit more of a favourable run with the things we can control and see where that takes us."
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