Hurling and camogie

Slaughtneil 'need to get better' after narrow Ballyhale defeat says captain Chrissy McKaigue

Slaughtneil captain Chrissy McKaigue leaves the field after Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny champions Ballyhale Shamrocks. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

SLAUGHTNEIL have proved they can mix it with the very best around, but captain Chrissy McKaigue insists the Derry and Ulster champions “need to get better” after Sunday’s defeat to defending All-Ireland champions Ballyhale.

The Emmett’s produced a sensational performance in Newry before losing out to the current Tommy Moore Cup holders, pushing the star-studded Kilkenny kingpins all the way in a gripping game at Pairc Esler.

It was the third time in four years they have come up short at the All-Ireland semi-final stage, having lost out to Cuala in 2017 and Na Piarsaigh in 2018.

And McKaigue says the onus is now on Slaughtneil to raise their level once more.

“The scoreline and who the opposition were might mean many would say we’ll take that performance, but for some of our good hurling, some of our mistakes came from poor enough play that we wouldn’t tolerate most days, and you just can’t do that against the calibre of Ballyhale.

“TJ Reid was well enough shackled from normal play but from frees he was in imperious form. It’s disappointing. In Slaughtneil we’re not about fulfilling stereotypes or other people’s expectations, we fulfil our own.

“We knew we could be hugely competitive today and the game was in the melting pot, a couple of tired or probably nervous decisions near the end, but they were ruthless in how they dispatched that goal at the end. We probably conceded too much today to win the game.

“You’re playing against one of the best club teams ever, so it’s always going to be fine margins. We just need to get to that next level, we just need to get better.

“That’s difficult for a dual club, but we just need to get better.”

There is no doubt they benefitted from being able to focus solely on hurling in the weeks and months leading into Sunday’s game, following the footballers’ Derry semi-final exit to neighbours Glen.

And, unlike the defeat to Na Piarsaigh two years ago, McKaigue says there was no shock factor when they found themselves matching the Shamrocks stride for stride.

“We knew we’d done the work, we knew we’d good hurlers, we knew the age profile of the team was getting probably more experienced and better, so we knew we were going to be competitive,” he said.

“We weren’t shocked this time; we were maybe a bit shocked the last time against Na Piarsaigh but we weren’t shocked today. Towards the end, in fairness some of the scores Ballyhale nipped off from play and from frees, there wasn’t maybe much we could do.

“You’ve just got to accept that, we’ve got to get better and we’ll try our best to do that.”

For boss Michael McShane, meanwhile, there remains the strong belief that there is an All-Ireland crown in the Derry men.

“I firmly believe it,” he said.

“I’ve believed that from the day and hour I walked through the gates of Slaughtneil, that ultimately the team could build towards winning an All-Ireland. We obviously had to conquer Ulster first, we’ve done that three times out of the last four years, we’ve now come to three All-Ireland semi-finals and played three incredible teams.

“We’ve lost them all but we keep getting better and we keep getting closer to them. We’re still losing ultimately, I know that, but the team has got better.”

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Hurling and camogie