McKaigue: '2014 loss would cripple most teams but it galvanised us'
Every time Chrissy McKaigue speaks about Slaughtneil and their remarkable journey to All-Ireland semi-finals in three different codes, his passion for the Derry club oozes from every pore.
Stories like Slaughtneil are at the very essence of the AIB club championships with a small rural community (of no more than 300 families) at the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains thriving against large urban areas and while it may be clichéd, they eat, sleep and drink GAA in the south Derry village.
Tomorrow's trip to Croke Park for an All-Ireland club SFC final clash with Kerry's Dr Crokes is potentially history in the making but after the success of their camogie side earlier this month, it will be treated like any other game.
No matter who's playing, or at what stage they were competing, Slaughtneil will be deserted such is their thirst in the GAA fraternity.
"There wasn't one person in Slaughtneil left," McKaigue says of the camogie decider. "And honest to God if it was the first round of the camogie, hurling and football championship in Derry, everybody in Slaughtneil supports everybody.
"Maybe that's not prevalent in other clubs, but one thing I know is in Slaughtneil, everybody supports everybody. It's great, because that's what the GAA is all about. Why shouldn't there have been as much support for the camogie girls as for us in the football?
"There is no difference, we wear the same crest. One thing about Slaughtneil and the team is, the team comes first. We don't honestly claim to have to have the best players, or the most stylish players, unity and grit goes a long way. The GAA history is littered with this key ingredient of real togetherness and unity, and Slaughtneil have that."
The 27-year-old teacher is quick to downplay his semi-final roasting of St Vincent's talisman Diarmuid Connolly, where he kicked four points from centre-back to Connolly's one, but another big task is coming down the tracks in tomorrow's mouth-watering final.
Colm 'Gooch' Cooper has had a glittering Gaelic football career, collecting five All-Ireland titles, eight All-Stars and Footballer of the Year (2004) but McKaigue, or Slaughtneil, won't be getting too bogged on him or anyone else.
"The one thing about Slaughtneil in how we prepare is that we analyse opposition, should be it the first round of Derry championship or whatever, we give them full respect. But the first thing is look after yourself," he says.
"Mickey Moran's coaching philosophy revolves around one thing - improvement. Individual improvement, first of all, to get the team improvement. And that is his philosophy. So if you are focused on that, you tend not to worry too much about the opposition or fairy-tale endings. Colm Cooper has had a very distinguished career and he has just as much right to win an All-Ireland club title as we do."
Club final heartbreak against Corofin two years ago could break most teams, but McKaigue feels it was the making of Slaughtneil combined with their Ulster club SHC final win against the odds.
"It has taken three years to get to the level we are at now. We are in a lot better place than we were in 2014, and that comes with experience.
"And often that experience means pain, and whether you want to say, 'This is not for me, there are people criticising me' or whatever else, you have just got to get on with it, and like the old saying goes, 'Respect is earned'."
"If I was to give a turning point for why our footballers have gone so well this year, it was the Ulster hurling final and being the first club from Derry to win it, and that whole scenario. It was massive.
"It is going to be some battle. What happened against Corofin, you know what, it might have crippled many teams but it galvanised us, so that says a lot about our spirit."
It's a spirit which has carried them a long way, and it might just carry them right to the pinnacle.