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Chrissy McKaigue has his sights on double Ulster joy

By John Campbell

It's not often that a club is afforded the opportunity to land Ulster titles in two codes at the same venue on the same day.

But that's precisely the scenario confronting Slaughtneil as preparations for the provincial hurling and camogie deciders are finalised.

Tomorrow is D-Day for the club and it will be a case of the last to leave turning the lights out as the entire population of the area descends on the Athletic Grounds, Armagh for what could prove to be one of the greatest days in the club's history.

Reigning Ulster champions Cushendall, however, stand in the way of their much yearned for provincial hurling crown while Loughgiel will form the opposition in a female Senior Camogie final that will see a plethora of county players lending an added dimension of quality to the fixture.

They may be the major force in Derry hurling but Slaughtneil's aspirations of becoming the kings of Ulster have still to be fulfilled.

Last year they were beaten at the semi-final stage by Cushendall and the Antrim champions will again be favourites to rule the roost, despite a scare in their narrow county final win over McQuillans Ballycastle.

No Derry club has ever won the Ulster hurling crown, a statistic that merely serves to further sharpen Slaughtneil's appetite for glory according to Chrissy McKaigue, one of several accomplished dual players who will pepper their line-up tomorrow.

"We have grown accustomed to meeting Cushendall so I don't think either side will be bringing anything new to the table," said McKaigue.

"They are a very solid side with a number of experienced players and they are used to winning big matches. We will certainly need to bring our 'A' game to the table if we are to have any chance of coming out on top."

McKaigue, in common with several of his colleagues, will be playing his 13th championship game in 11 weeks - a demanding itinerary by any standards.

In contrast, Cushendall have charted a much less hazardous route and with Antrim skipper Neil McManus to the fore, their side is laced with experience and youthful enterprise.

Aaron Graffin, Eoghan Campbell and Karl McKeegan represent the more mature brigade while the McNaughton clan Donal, Christy and Shane, along with Conor Carson, form a corps of rapidly emerging talent.

While Chrissy McKaigue is at the very core of Slaughtneil's strategy, Brendan Rogers, Cormac O'Doherty, Paul Bradley and Karl McKaigue are other key players who underpin the side.

The fact that Slaughtneil have engaged winning ways spanning the past two years has done much for their confidence and cohesion and these could prove invaluable assets tomorrow.

Slaughtneil camogie captain Louise Dougan, meanwhile, is determined that her side should write their own chapter in the sporting history books by getting the better of fancied Loughgiel in what should prove a pulsating provincial senior final.

Dougan said: "I think the fact that we will have the backing of what will be a big Slaughtneil contingent of fans will be a bonus.

"It's great that the hurling and camogie finals are being played on the same day at the same venue. While we were delighted to win the Derry title, we now know that we will be testing ourselves against a really top side in Loughgiel and this will show us where we are at."

Slaughtneil's mix of pace and poise could yet see them ruffle Loughgiel's feathers but skipper Dougan believes it will take a "supreme effort" if victory is to be achieved.

She added: "This is a massive game for us and we have to rise to the occasion.

"The backing of our fans will be key to this."

Belfast Telegraph


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