Chrissy McKaigue has said Slaughtneil are determined to make their mark beyond Ulster though acknowledged the draw for the All-Ireland series has been consistently cruel on them.
Having faced former back to back All-Ireland winners Cuala in the 2017 semi-finals and Na Piarsaigh, the 2016 champions, in the 2018 semi-finals, Slaughtneil are now preparing for reigning champions Ballyhale Shamrocks this Sunday.
For dual star McKaigue’s money, that’s the three best club teams from the past 15 years though Slaughtneil, within Ulster at least, have carved out their own niche as a terrific team with three provincial titles in four seasons.
They’ve won the last seven Derry titles too and with the club’s camogie team completing an All-Ireland three in a row last March, there’s an appetite among the men’s team to gain national recognition themselves.
“I think for our group of players (2019) was about consolidating our part as one of the best Ulster hurling teams around,” said McKaigue.
“To win three in four years is not something too many clubs can boast, regardless of if they’re from Derry, Down, or Antrim, so that was important to us and now we’ve achieved that. The biggest task, as I’ve said for the last number of years, is to try to make a mark at national level.
“We probably have made a mark after the last time against Na Piarsaigh, where we were in a pretty strong position but whether it was a lack of experience or a lack of belief, or a mixture of both, we let that one slip.
“Ballyhale are obviously every bit as good if not better than Cuala and Na Piarsaigh so it’s not as if we’ve got an easy draw or anything like that.”
Yet the 30-year-old former Sydney Swans Aussie Rules player isn’t throwing in the towel before the game has even begun.
“We’re in a better place now, more experienced and the age profile of our team is better,” he said.
We’ve unearthed a couple of underage players that have come through, whether that’s good enough to beat Ballyhale, I can’t answer that right now but I can say we’re in a better place than we were against Na Piarsaigh, and on another day we might have been good enough to do it.
“But we had injuries that day too and there was sickness in the camp, whether we’d have beaten Na Piarsaigh anyway I don’t know but I’d like to think this year we might get a little bit more of a favourable run with the things we can control.”
McKaigue said Slaughtneil are also driven by a siege mentality having felt they didn’t get enough credit for previous achievements within Ulster.
“We felt we owed it to ourselves to show what we were truly about in Ulster,” said McKaigue. “To beat Dunloy in the final was a nice one and to win a third provincial hurling crown in four years was probably a fitting conclusion to the year because we felt that we probably hadn’t got the respect that we probably deserved for what we’d achieved prior to that.”
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