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24th Nov 2017

There are men, there are men, and then, then there’s Chrissy McKaigue

He's a different species

Niall McIntyre

Chrissy McKaigue has Slaughtneil coursing through his veins.

If you cut the man open, he would bleed maroon and white. His broad shoulders are lined with Irish culture. Upon them, the reliance of 300 families lie. Lucky, then, that his physique is as far-reaching as his yearning to do Slaughtneil proud.

It’s rare now to find a man like McKaigue.

When he speaks about that small rural community in South Derry – it’s no longer small. It’s the biggest and best thing in the world. It’s the only thing in the world. It’s the only thing that matters.

His eyes light up. His voice becomes sharper and more convincing and his chest bulges.

Chrissy McKaigue is so submerged in that little place at the foothills of the Glenshane Mountains that when he speaks, he speaks for every single one of its inhabitants.

He becomes that man that lines the Robert Emmet’s GAA pitch every Saturday morning. He becomes the under-8 camogie player with dreams of following in the footsteps of the club’s two-in-a-row Ulster senior camogie champions. He becomes the old man on the sideline of their Ulster final against Cavan Gaels on Sunday. He becomes Slaughtneil.

Slaughtneil is the archetype of what rural Ireland should be. Country roads, green fields and GAA pitches. Friendly faces, familiar faces.

McKaigue is the one who represents them, and by God does he do it well. By God does he do them proud.

Speaking to SportsJOE at the AIB provincial finals day, the distinguished centre back who took Diarmuid Connolly for four points from play in February, ran the rule over Sunday’s challenge.

He couldn’t speak about the future without going back to the past. The bedrock of the area, the foundation of this team.

“We’re very happy to be there. It’s our third Ulster Final in four years which for us is massive. Sometimes it’s very easy to get caught up and lose a sense of perspective, because until 2004 we had never won a county football title. We’ve made decent progress,” said the 28-year-old with the maturity of a historian.

Though the Derry side go into the game as 1/8 favourites. Their talisman takes nothing for granted.

“The experience is vital,” he says.

“People have asked me about Cavan Gaels that this is their third week in a row. That’s fine. But I think it’s a lot more difficult when you’re chopping and changing codes. It could be argued that the extra game might have helped Cavan Gaels because they went through Cavan pretty comprehensively, they beat Lamh Dhearg from Antrim by a lot too. So the two difficult games could really stand to them. They pulled through them and showed a lot of character in both them games. They’ll be well prepared and they’ll be getting our full respect for sure.

“It’s a very unique competition, the Ulster Club, because it’s so hectic. It does certainly help having that experience. But we’re playing a team on Sunday that also has that experience so there’s no real added advantage there,” added the 28-year-old.

When McKaigue speaks, he does so with such authority. Such conviction. The mind immediately imagines the beastly team-talks this man gives to his parish’s hurlers and footballers. Never mind the hair standing on the back of heads, hairs would be lifting the dressing room roof.

As the side chase their third Ulster football title in four years, the hunger hasn’t weaned. He’s even more insatiable. So are his teammates.

“I don’t know if we’ve tweaked a whole lot. I think as a team we’ve definitely improved. But that’s probably as much a result of the age profile of our team. The younger boys who were very young last year have physically and mentally matured a lot in a year. 

“That probably came from being exposed to playing big games against good teams and all the rest. And Mickey Moran is a massive believer in improving everyone too. He would just walk away if that wasn’t happening, he’s very meticulous that way.


“Things are moving in the right direction. You would probably tweak a few small things here and there, but by and large we don’t want to tweak too much because we’ve been relatively successful,” he said.

This humbleness is always there in this interview. In Slaughtneil, nothing is put on a plate for you. You’ve to go out and bloody well earn it. That’s what they’ve done. That’s what they plan to do.

This is what drives them, this is what sustains them. This is what the next generation of south Derry youngsters are being born into. This is why they’re here to stay in both hurling and football.

Mixing the codes has proven a bridge too far for many clubs. Not for this one.

“The amount of people who have been asking me over the last number of years as to what are we doing. If we’ve a hurling game this weekend so we’re just going to train for the hurling game and a football game next weekend, we’re just going to train for the football game. Then we’ve quite a few guys that fall into the bracket of one code believe it or not. They have a smaller group session. We haven’t reinvented the wheel as such,” he added.

He’s always looking for more, and that’s what sets him apart. For Derry the levels of success have been nowhere near the levels of Slaughtneil. He still, however, wants to pursue hurling and football with his county, though he feels next year it might be a bridge too far.

He sure as hell would like to, though. It takes something fierce to hold this man back. Next year, it looks like the Derry hurlers will be deprived of their fighting spirit because of the stacked calendar and the demands of managers.

“I don’t think it’s sustainable at county level (playing both hurling and football). It was very, very different last year because the Nicky Rackard was run off in a couple of weeks basically. It just kind of worked out well. This year it’ll be very different with the Christy Ring, arguably more games, tougher games and the schedule looking at it, I’m not sure is it going to allow for much flexibility either,” he said.

“I think with the demands of inter-county sport now in general, mentally it’s nearly next to impossible. You need some quality of life too. But I would say at the minute now with the demands that are at inter-county level, I don’t think it’s possible any more,” he added.

“There’s no one willing to carry that fight any more,” he concluded.

It’s the first time in the interview you sense that he regrets something. Because we all know if there was any man to do it, he would certainly be that man.

Ten years ago he could have done it, when the demands were less demanding. He’s a natural athlete. He doesn’t need all this intense training, but that’s how it’s gone, for better or for worse.

Just like he charges down the pitch like a man possessed, just like he recklessly extends his body to exertions it shouldn’t have to suffer, his interviews are meaningful. They’re not boring.

That’s the Slaughtneil way. That’s Chrissy McKaigue’s way.

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