Slaughtneil on a high as club’s hurlers bid to make it a stunning All-Ireland hat-trick
Slaughtneil's talisman Chrissy McKaigue has warned All-Ireland final opponents Dr Crokes that they are a different animal from the team that lost the 2015 decider to Corofin.
Two years on they are back to take centre-stage in the showpiece — incredibly the club’s camogie players are already through to the All-Ireland final, while the hurlers are just one step away — after a stunning win over St Vincent’s in the semi-final in Newry, with McKaigue noting that this time they have acquired big-game experience.
“Maybe now we are starting to learn a wee bit more but you can’t learn until you have been in this situation before,” he said after kicking four superb crucial points.
“I keep saying this — the added value of being in the last four of this competition is massive. We went into that Corofin final and I had played in Croke Park before and played in big games before.
“But it was a completely new experience playing with your club in Croke Park,” the full-back admitted.
“Even playing against Austin Stacks (in the 2015 semi-final) we were a bit shell-shocked. St Vincent’s probably have a lot more experience than us, but that experience helped us massively,” said the Gaelic games co-ordinator for St Mary’s school in Limavady.
There is an old saying in Kerry football circles that when you nullify the opposition’s key player you ‘hammer the hammer’.
In Saturday’s semi-final, McKaigue simply obliterated his direct opponent Diarmuid Connolly, outscoring him 0-4 to 0-1.
At one stage, after jinking past Connolly to land a monster point, he found himself in the exact same position only for Connolly to commit an angry tackle that brought him a booking. McKaigue jumped with delight, knowing that Connolly was at breaking point.
“Throughout my career I have been given the task of marking the ‘marquee’ forward a lot of the time,” he reflected.
“Sometimes it goes alright, sometimes you break even, that’s just the nature of playing quality opposition.”
“It went well enough. On another day Diarmuid Connolly could give you all the trouble you want.”
For a spell during the first half, Connolly moved closer to the edge of the square, where he was picked up by Brendan Rodgers who also embarked upon a number of forays upfield.
“It’s an easy thing to sit back, relax and let them bombard you,” said Rodgers afterwards.
“Why not go for it? If that means defenders have to go and make that run, make the hard yards, and that’s the only way you can be successful.
“You will miss the scores you don’t take!”
Rodgers also described the feeling within a club that have already booked their place in the football and camogie All-Ireland finals, with a semi-final in hurling against Dublin and Leinster champions Cuala at the end of the month.
“There is no hype in the club. Everyone leaves the players to it because they don’t need any distractions,” Rodgers explained.
“If you need help in any way, they are there to support us 100%.
“For us to give something back by winning a game of football, it’s nice to show our appreciation.”
McKaigue went further to explain the astonishing durability of this special club.
“I know many people didn’t give us a chance,” he said of Saturday’s semi-final.
“Sometimes a wee bit of spirit and fight goes a long way. We have a group of boys that it’s in their DNA to fight.
“When it comes to these kind of games in the white heat of the Championship, we tend to fight and fight and fight. And more often than not, it tends to work out.
“A huge gratitude to Mickey Moran and his coaching team. They are the boys that set up the system and the plays and make sure everything is right. More often than not, it tends to be right.”
Unlike final opponents Dr Crokes — with Colm Cooper, Daithi Casey and Kieran O’Leary leading a sparkling attack — most of the Slaughtneil panel will be engaged with a different sport now as they gear up for the hurling semi-final in the Athletic Grounds on February 25.
“I would be the first to say it — if you are at a dual club like ours at the minute, if you are looking for the perfect preparation or the perfect scenario, it’s not going to happen,” admitted McKaigue.
“Sometimes you get frustrated with each other and the management teams get frustrated with each other because they want more out of the group.
“We just have to accept it. It’s not perfect. Far from it. At the same time, playing that game with the pressure, the crowd, the atmosphere, it is only going to benefit us.
“We mightn’t be as skilful as them, but by God, we will battle and we will use that experience.”