Slaughtneil get brief respite from a fairytale journey

Chrissy McKaigue doesn’t need to apologise for being physically and mentally jaded. He has, he admits, little interest in talking any more about Gaelic games and that’s entirely reasonable.

A key member of both Slaughtneil teams — he’s captain of the hurlers — it’s been a historic if punishing few months which has seen the south-Derry club claim senior county and Ulster titles in both codes.

The camogie team won Ulster too and McKaigue’s need to simply sit back, rest and soak it all in now is probably replicated across all three panels.

The footballers have had the longest journey because they had an All-Ireland club quarter-final fixture to fulfill recently in London, the final act of a remarkable year that included league and Championship duty with Derry for McKaigue.

“At this stage, I don’t want to talk about football any more, I just want a week or two off where I can mentally tune out, just because it’s been relentless the last while,” said McKaigue, a 27-year-old teacher.

“It’s been hurling and football in Derry, it’s been hurling and football in Ulster, non-stop and then we’d the London game thrown into the mix.

“The mind needs a break as much as the body at this stage.”

McKaigue, a former AFL player with Sydney Swans, is supporting the new Club Players Association and is well placed to discuss the various pressures on club players.

He described the “fixtures calendar” as “not efficient in any way” but surprisingly isn’t a fan of playing off all club fixtures in the one calendar year, as widely proposed.

“I would still be a fan of keeping the original All-Ireland final fixture on St Patrick’s Day but that’s not the biggest issue at stake,” said McKaigue, who reckons the apparent problem of county teams missing club tied players early on each year is a red herring.

“At the end of the day unless you’re from a Dublin club it’s not happening on a consistent basis, certainly not where a Derry team is going to be in an All-Ireland club semi-final every year.

“There’s never going to be a perfect model, I don’t think. But, at the end of the day, missing a couple of league games is not the end of the world either.

“Obviously with the stakes becoming higher every manager wants their players to be available to them all the time.

“But with the nature of the GAA that’s not always possible.

“The biggest issue for me is condensing the GAA inter-county season.

“Once we condense that, I think there will be more room for manoeuvring.”

Slaughtneil face St Vincent’s in the club football semi-final on February 11 and, should they win, could face Corofin of Galway in a repeat of the 2015 final which Corofin won.

McKaigue believes the men from the foothills of the Sperrin mountains would be better placed to win this time.

“We met an exceptional Corofin team but I don’t think we were ready to win an All-Ireland anyway, we hadn’t the experience,” said McKaigue.

“We’d a hangover year in 2015 generally after winning Ulster. We just about scraped through Derry and were beaten by a very good Scotstown team in Ulster who could arguably have beaten Crossmaglen in a thrilling Ulster final that went to extra-time.

“It’s fine margins but I think if you want to give yourself the best chance of competing at this level, you need to be fresh and you need to be mentally and physically ready. In 2015, I don’t think we were.”


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