From centre-back, McKaigue destroyed the Dublin champions, out-scoring his man by four points to one in Pairc Esler, three in the second half, to set up an All-Ireland final against Dr Crokes.
Slaughtneil’s admirable collective spirit and ability to keep possession in an exciting finish made them deserving winners, but McKaigue’s fingerprints were all over it.
The club’s assistant manager John Joe Kearney said: “He was a wee bit concerned about marking Connolly.
“We had a get-together on Friday night I knew that by the vibes of him that he was worried. I had a word with him, a one-to-one, and told him ‘for the first time in three years I had been involved with a team and experienced a bit of negativity from you as regards what you have to do’.
“I said ‘why should you worry about Diarmuid Connolly? Let Diarmuid Connolly worry about you’. You get an opening, you go for it. Put him on the back foot.’
“He obviously listened to my advice because he had a great game. We were underdogs coming in and that’s fine. It didn’t worry us. We knew we’d be there or thereabouts. It was a great victory.”
Connolly had a short s pell at full-forward against Brendan Rodgers but mostly planted himself at centre-forward and with McKaigue overwhelming him at times, Mayo’s Enda Varley stepped up to do most of the scoring damage for St Vincent’s.
He nailed 0-4 in the first half, including two from play, with Nathan Mullins and Connolly scoring one each, as Vincent’s won three Slaughtneil kick-outs in a row and had a lot of the better chances of the first half.
They led 0-5 to 0-3 after 19 minutes, but over the next 25 minutes either side of half-time were outscored by seven points to two.
An accomplished defensive spine has helped Slaughtneil to the top of the pile in Ulster, and they grew in confidence as they came to terms with Vincent’s.
The Dublin champions got a lot of men behind the ball, forcing Slaughtneil to shoot from distance, which they did with mixed success. McKaigue led the way. Surging forward, throwing off tackles, he shot from 40m into a strong wind and the ball curled inside the far post.
The worry of five first-half wides and Paul Bradley’s poor 25m free which dropped short was lifted with Christopher Bradley’s tremendous left-footed point to tie the scores at five points each.
Varley dropped the shoulder and his left-footed point edged Vincent’s back in front, 0-6 to 0-5, at the break.
Slaughtneil outscored St Vincent’s by five points to one in a 13-minute spell after the interval, McKaigue with two points and Christopher Bradley and Shane McGuigan also finding their range. That left them leading 0-10 to 0-7.
Vincent’s manager Tommy Conroy admitted those scores were “huge”.
“In a game like that where Slaughtneil are very good at keeping possession, three points was a big lead. McKaigue punished us. We brought it back to a point and had a chance, but there was just something lacking in us but I’ve no complaints. Slaughtneil stuck to what they had to do. We just weren’t right, for some reason.”
Gavin Burke found the space to score twice with his left foot and Vincent’s carved out the game’s only goal chance, Varley flicking the ball towards goal but goalkeeper Antoin McMullan dived to his left to turn it round the post.
Slaughtneil were competent front-runners and managed to stay ahead, confidently recycling possession and running down the clock.
St Vincent’s lost their discipline in the last quarter with black cards for Cormac Diamond and Brendan Egan, while Connolly and Ger Brennan were booked late on, and Paul Bradley’s injury-time free saw Slaughtneil through to a second All-Ireland final in three years.
The club also have an All-Ireland hurling semi-final coming up in two weeks time against more Dublin opponents, Cuala. With their camogie team already through to the All-Ireland final, the momentum is with them, and Kearney gave a flavour of what makes them tick.
“We never have any less than 34 at training. It’s a special thing.”
C McKaigue 0-4, C Bradley 0-3, Shane McGuigan 0-3 (2f), Paul Bradley 0-2 (2f).
E Varley 0-5 (2f), G Burke 0-2, D Connolly, N Mullins, S Carthy 0-1 each.
A McMullan; F McEldowney, B Rodgers, K McKaigue; P McNeill, C McKaigue, K Feeney; Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy; Shane McGuigan, Paul Bradley, M McGrath; C Bradley, Se McGuigan, C O’Doherty.
R Bradley for Se McGuigan (54), B McGuigan for K McKaigue (BC, 64).
M Savage; M Concarr, J Curley, C Wilson; B Egan, G Brennan, Cameron Diamond; N Mullins, S Carthy; G Burke, D Connolly, Cormac Diamond; R Trainor, E Varley, T Quinn.
A Martin for Trainor (46), J Feeney for Cormac Diamond (BC, 61), K Golden for Cameron Diamond (67), F Breathnach for Mullins (58), S McCusker for Egan (BC, 62). Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)