McKaigue inspired by camogie clubmates ahead of Crokes decider
Slaughtneil's star man switches attention from curbing Connolly to taking steps up Hogan
On the day after Slaughtneil were crowned All-Ireland senior club camogie champions, at an event to publicise the club's forthcoming football final against Dr Crokes, Chrissy McKaigue was asked if he and his team-mates had been present to see the ladies' success. "There wasn't a single person in Slaughtneil left at home yesterday," McKaigue responded, removing any doubt. "There couldn't have been. That's the great thing; our footballers, hurlers and camogie players are supported the same and that's why things are going so well because the level of support behind us is so great."
This principle of equality, irrespective of gender or grade, is a core philosophy at Slaughtneil, who await Friday's All-Ireland final at Croke Park. There's no tolerance of hierarchies even if you could argue that the footballers have the most prestigious title at stake. In Slaughtneil, the club overrides the individual components and from that inviolable rule, the rest follows; it becomes greater than the sum of its parts and it has been phenomenally successful for its size.
McKaigue had a cousin on the winning camogie team. With the hurlers having fallen at the penultimate stage, losing to Cuala, the ladies' victory has eased pressure on the men who follow. Least that is how McKaigue sees it. "We can't but be inspired by what the girls did. First Derry club ever to win a senior All-Ireland camogie title. It was just unbelievable. The club just keep setting new records which is fantastic. The footballers and hurlers have seen at first hand what the girls have done in terms of application, commitment and work, and that's why good things have happened to them - because of the work."
McKaigue is one of the main reasons they are in the final. His semi-final performance against St Vincent's in Newry was one of the competition's highlights, scoring four points from play while keeping tabs on Diarmuid Connolly, who managed just one. In the meantime, he has suffered the loss of the hurling semi-final to Cuala where he was part of the team's attack. Experience of losing the All-Ireland football final to Corofin in 2014 is something McKaigue believes will be of benefit on March 17.
"Looking back on it now with a clear head, we weren't physically ready that day," he reflects. "We were beaten by an exceptional team. For us to have truly competed with Corofin that day we would have needed everybody fully fit and fully flying. We just didn't perform but Corofin were deserving champions. We are in a much better place now with more experience - both physically and mentally. What happened in 2014 has galvanised us to an extent because when a club wins its first provincial title you are entering the unknown and you don't know what to expect. We now know what to expect; it is not going to be easy but at least we know that it is going to take."
They are appreciative of the second chance. "Winning Derry is so, so tough, we focus on the small steps. We won Derry and thought to ourselves that, traditionally, Derry teams have a good record in Ulster. So, step by step, we got back to an Ulster final. Faced a very good Kilcoo team but we couldn't enjoy our victory because then we had to play the London champions two weeks later. By that stage it was Christmas and we had a couple of weeks off but the hurling (semi-final) was coming up so there was always something to take your mind off looking too far into the future. I think the times you look too far ahead you miss out on the present and in sport you can't miss out on the present."
Being a dual player, he admits, was challenging. "We had a look at the calendar and we tried to incorporate as much rest into it as much as anything else. There is no doubt our hurling suffered a wee tiny bit because hurling is one of these games that you need to be at all the time. But we wouldn't have swapped this scenario for the world. We have never turned down this problem. You have got to show gratitude for what you have. We are tremendously lucky in the times we are living."
He acknowledged manager Mickey Moran's influence on the team. "He brought a real calmness to a group that maybe in the past hadn't been associated with calmness and composure. But a team always reflects the manager's traits and we reflect Mickey Moran's. We're respectful, honest, hard-working and diligent, and that's everything he is about. He is also a man who has been around for a long time but is also one of the modern thinkers and is always willing to adopt modern approaches which is why his career has such longevity. You go anywhere in Ireland and mention Mickey Moran's name and first thing they will say he is a gentleman."
Slaughtneil will be aiming to become the first Derry champion since Ballinderry's win in 2002. It is 21 years since a Kerry club was successful, when Laune Rangers triumphed in 1996.
All-Ireland Club SFC final: Dr Crokes (Kerry) v Slaughtneil (Derry), Croke Park, March 17, 5.0
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