Always happy to assume the responsibility on the pitch, Chrissy McKaigue admits that agreeing to do so off the pitch now too for his beloved Slaughtneil was a “daunting” move.
The freshly minted football Allstar has been the successful Derry club’s new games promotion (GPO) officer since July, a challenging role that will see him steer and fine tune their coaching structures. On the face of things, the appointment of the 33-year-old dual star, who will line out for Slaughtneil in Sunday’s Ulster Club SHC final against Dunloy, is a no-brainer and McKaigue himself confessed that he thinks about Gaelic games virtually 24/7. But it was also a giant move for him to take on a position so close to his own heart.
“It’s hugely time-consuming but what I find is that I’m so passionate about it and so engrossed by it that every day I wake up, I’m more motivated about it than ever,” said McKaigue.
“I’m so, so grateful for the opportunity because the first three or four months here, I’ve never enjoyed more. Honestly. “I started roughly the tail end of July. It’s obviously a big deal for our club to do it because it’s completely organised by ourselves and it’s not a common thing within Derry either. It’s taken a lot of organisation, there have been so many great people that have set it up and presented me with the opportunity to do it. “It is quite daunting, working in your own club and different things like that but it’s something I feel I can give real traction to in the next number of years and hopefully we can leave the club in a much better place, and that’s going to be no mean feat because what I’ve inherited is a club that’s been in very, very good health.”
The GPO role, which typically ranges from working with children in local schools and at the club in the evenings and weekends, to overseeing coach education courses, could clash with his club and county playing commitments, though McKaigue shook his head at that suggestion. “Yes, we do get involved with the schools and whatever else but maybe not to the same extent as some other GPOs,” said McKaigue.
“We’re conscious of maybe not just looking at templates of what other GPOs do – we want to tailor it to fit the Slaughtneil model and that’s something we’re big on.”
McKaigue, speaking at sponsors AIB’s promotion of Sunday’s provincial decider with Dunloy at the Athletic Grounds, cut a generally upbeat and optimistic figure. An Ulster SFC medallist with Derry this year as well as an Allstar, he says life is good these days.
“I just think I’m so motivated currently because of the way Derry is going as a county,” he said.
“Stephen Barker, the CEO, has been a breath of fresh air with what he’s doing around Owenbeg, the centre of excellence, facility-wise, structures-wise. We’ve had a fantastic management team with the Derry senior footballers and of course the club scene, the school scene, all the structures from grassroots right up to the Derry senior football team, the county is on a real high and I would be very optimistic about that.
“Naturally that enthuses me to keep going for as long as I can because I do think it’s worth hanging on for.”
On this weekend’s quest to retain the Ulster Club SHC title, and the repeat of the 2019 decider with great rivals Dunloy, McKaigue said it is a grudge match that should excite the minds of supporters and neutrals.
“I think it’s a good thing that for us and Dunloy this is such a high profile game because it adds an extra layer to it,” he said.
“I have never seen as much media coverage around an Ulster club hurling final as we have this year. I think that bodes well. “It’s a good boost for Ulster hurling because it doesn’t get that many days in the GAA calendar, let’s be honest, where it is such a high profile day. “And Sunday is a high profile day, great ground in Armagh, big crowd, big media attention, lots of neutral attention, so aye, looking forward to it and definitely aware that it’s a big day.”