"Sometimes we fall short a wee bit in terms of portraying our game into something it’s not" - McKaigue doesn't agree with the analysis 3 weeks ago

"Sometimes we fall short a wee bit in terms of portraying our game into something it’s not" - McKaigue doesn't agree with the analysis

Chrissy McKaigue experienced the best of the age-old provincial system on Sunday, when Derry enjoyed a beautiful Sunday in Clones, but none-the-less, the Slaughtneil defender has not changed his mind.

He put his cards on the table on this one last year and he is still adamant that, if the football championship is to improve, then change is needed. And even though Sunday was special and even though, as he spoke to us on Tuesday, he was still on a high, McKaigue has always seemed like a man of his word and he wasn't about to change tack here.

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"Our system is broken and it needs fixing," the 32-year-old stalwart said definitively, at the launch of the 2022 All-Ireland football championship.

"Regardless of how special it was for us on Sunday. I still think we can do better with the system, and I think we can make it a more attractive proposition and a better model with higher quality games."

Things are changing next year, when the heavily backed green proposal comes into effect in the race for Sam Maguire. That's a round-robin system whereby 16 teams (eight provincial finalists and the eight next best teams in the League), are divided into groups of four. McKaigue welcomes the change.

“I know next year, we’re moving towards that, and I would welcome that.

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“As special as it was, I think the teams in Ulster are at a disadvantage compared to other provinces and how competitive it is.

“Six out of the province are Division 1 or Division 2 teams. There is no other province to my knowledge that can boast that same record, so it’s competitive to say the least and that’s grand to a certain extent, but it’s not great if you are beaten in the first round.

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“We have drawn Tyrone and Donegal how many times over the last decade and that makes things harder.”

“It’s not really a great system when you are comparing other provinces who get it slightly easier at times,” he added.

Ulster may be a more difficult province to get out of and, if you were listening to Colm O'Rourke on Sunday, you'd have heard that it's also a more difficult province to watch. "This is the bore of the century," the Meath man said at one point during the game.

But McKaigue isn't buying that narrative - he insists that both Derry and Donegal are as tactically astute a pair of teams as you'll find.

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“It’s hard to please everybody, but irrespective of what anybody thought of the game, you look at the amount of scores now being scored in inter-county football by comparison to 10/15 years ago and it’s chalk-and-cheese.

“Rory (Gallagher) is tactically brilliant and that Donegal team are also tactically brilliant, so I think that’s more of a reason why the game went into that pattern more than anything else.

“When teams are that well coached, that tactically attuned, and know the match-ups and all that, everything is premeditated, so the risks become heightened.

“Sunday was a game where the stakes were so high that the teams were unwilling to take so many risks. They were so well set up. Rory has made a massive difference, but he’s a hugely intelligent man.

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“Donegal have a reputation over the last number of years of being fantastically defensive too. They don’t get the credit for how tactically well-tuned they are. Their attacks are premeditated and very well structured, they know exactly who they want to shoot and how they want to orchestrate the shot.

“You look at the number of scores they’ve got in Division 1 over the last two or three years and they’ve averaged 17-18 points. That’s not talked about much in the media. We want to use the term ‘defensive football’, we want to use the verbiage ‘arm-wrestles’, and that kind of stuff. But when you look at the stats of how much teams are scoring in inter-county now in comparison to 10 years ago, it’s day and night.

“Sometimes we fall short a wee bit in terms of portraying our game into something it’s not always. There’s a level of our game now, tactically and physically.

“Look at the crowds now going to the games. I think the game is in really good health and I know all the boys and girls that want to be playing GAA. I think GAA in Derry and in Ulster and beyond is in really good health at the minute. I honestly do believe that.”

And going back to what the win means to McKaigue and his county, he says that for all the struggles he's endured as a Derry player - he's played in the Division 1, 2, 3 and 4 finals in the football League - Sunday made it all worthwhile.

"I think that's a big thing for that group of players. It's been hugely energising for me because without them you're nearly thinking to yourself, jeez, it's time to pull the pin. But the likes of Shane McGuigan, Conor Glass, and even the likes of young Matthew Downey who captained the Derry minors to the All-Ireland and Lachlan Murray who came on in the Ulster Final, there's a different generation coming through.
"It takes all of that to happen and a very special manager on the line too. It's been a hard old struggle but Sunday was hugely satisfying."