Chrissy McKaigue isn’t one to shirk anything.
He’s considered in everything he does, he’s honest and he’s self-critical.
He knows better than anyone that Derry football has allowed itself to fall into the pits and he wants more than anyone to drag it back out. He’s on board again on the county setup for the championship summer but what he’s heard during his break is the same thing people in Derry have been hearing all the time. As the county plummeted to Division Four, the same excuses propped up.
But on The GAA Hour, Colm Parkinson put them to Chrissy McKaigue and the Slaughtneil man tackled those seven biggest myths that do the rounds every time something goes wrong in Derry.
1. The club football rivalry is so fierce in Derry that the players, when they come into the county, they don’t get along.
Nothing to that one. I used to fall into that trap and think ‘maybe there’s something in that’ but then I go and watch other counties and other club teams and that rivalry is every bit as fierce. Even when Derry were a top four or top five side traditionally in the 90s and maybe even the early 00s also, that was still thrown around that that was the reason maybe Derry weren’t reaching their full potential but it’s common in just about every county, there’s still that parochial, competitive edge.
2. Derry needs an outside manager – some clubs won’t declare for certain managers.
I think the problem in Derry is that there is more of a care factor, dare I say, towards the clubs because people in Derry are so passionate about their clubs. I don’t think Derry gets the same amount of support as other counties because their love for their club is so, so strong – it’s club first. But, for me, there’s nothing wrong with that mentality but I just think when things maybe go wrong in Derry or a few results don’t go their way, then that kind of excuse is used, ‘well we don’t really care about supporting Derry, we’re more worried about supporting our clubs’.
I just think Derry, now more than ever, needs some kind of run, some kind of success, something just to stop the rut. Let’s not make any bones about it, the last three years has been excruciatingly painful for any true Derry fan.
3. Players and fans don’t like travelling to Celtic Park because there’s not good support there – it doesn’t feel like a home venue.
That’s one that’s always been really well documented but I’ve played in Celtic Park on numerous occasions when Derry was going well and the place was absolutely bouncing. But I think in all counties – and Monaghan have been a really good example – the national league games should be spread around the club scene. There’s just that wee bit more atmosphere, I think it makes it more inclusive for clubs to get involved and I think for some of the national league games this year, if Derry had them at club venues, they would’ve gotten a lot more support and might’ve been a bit more competitive in some of their games. I do fall in line with that one to a certain extent but I think it’s something that all counties should be doing, if they have the facilities, and I think the club facilities in Derry are unbelievable, second to none.
4. Players don’t want to commit because the football is too defensive
Well, you see, Derry’s biggest problem the last few years hasn’t been that the football’s too defensive, it’s been too open. The number of shootouts, the last couple of years some of the games I’ve been involved in – unbelievable games, they’d almost be shown in the highlights reel on TG4 over Christmas. But we keep on getting on the wrong side of them. There wasn’t that much of a tactical awareness, and that comes down to the players more than just blaming the management. But then there have been times where Derry have tried to rectify being too open and almost too offensive by being too defensive and that’s where the critics have come about. Where, in reality, the vast majority of the time, Derry have not been defensive at all.
5. Players not looked after well enough by the county board
The county boards always get a bit of scrutiny, don’t they, no matter what county you’re in. What I will say is that a lot of things have been blown out of proportion. I think every county’s structures can improve, Derry are no different. But I know the fixtures in Derry the last two years about been really, really improved. Stephen Barker has done fantastic work on that and he’s now moved on to the Croke Park board to help with the fixtures there.
I wouldn’t hold it against any supporter at the minute for feeling a wee bit hard done by or a wee bit disillusioned because Derry, in the last few years, haven’t been competitive or anywhere near competitive as we should’ve been. Last year against Mayo, we were beaten after extra time, there were Derry supporters in the field after that. All they wanted to see was a Derry team fighting and showing a bit of pride.
6. There’s no football in the city
I still think that until Derry can get Derry city is really, really flowing with Gaelic footballers and Gaelic football clubs, then it’s never going to reach its full potential. Derry city has the highest population in the county, that’s quite obvious, but it’s always been a soccer town. There have been so many great Gaels in the last number of years – and it’s still ongoing – who have done fantastic work in Derry city. Steelstown have went from strength to strength and you have a few new clubs who have popped up with their own brand new facilities so that’s going to take time. All cities have their challenges and Derry city is no different. Around south Derry where I’m from and large pockets of north Derry, there’s no other distractions or other sports and it makes life easier.
7. Paddy and Eoin Bradley were and are a negative influence
Absolute nonsense. Paddy Bradley was one of the best leaders I ever played along with. Period. Eoin Bradley was certainly one of the most talented forwards I ever played along with. There are so many people out there who are so vindictive in their analysis but I can wholeheartedly say that when Derry had two forwards like Paddy and Eoin Bradley, they were in a better place irrespective of the rumours or whatever else. That’s shown by Derry’s league positioning and whatever big results they got, them two guys were on the panels.
Listen to the full brilliant interview below (from 46:40).