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McKaigue keeping his cool ahead of titanic clash with St Enda's

 

By John Campbell

Karl McKaigue retains vivid memories of the 2014 Ulster senior club football championship final.

Along with his Slaughtneil team-mates, the talented dual player had hoped the game might provide irrefutable evidence that the south Derry side had not merely stumbled into the limelight but were preparing to gird their loins for the long haul.

In the event, this is precisely what happened. Omagh St Enda's were in the opposite corner on that occasion but succumbed (1-10 to 1-9) and since then, Slaughtneil have gone on to collect three more Derry championship titles which they have embellished with a further provincial crown.

Tonight the Omagh outfit will once again confront Slaughtneil, this time at Celtic Park (7.00pm) in an Ulster club championship quarter-final that offers the prospect of a titanic contest.

If the final of three years ago helped to further project Slaughtneil into the national spotlight, it left a lingering hurt within the St Enda's camp which will only be fully erased by a victory tonight - a fact of which Karl McKaigue and his playing colleagues are only too well aware.

He said: "It was a very tough battle three years ago and since then St Enda's have improved but we feel we have improved too. It's going to be a massive battle no matter what way you look at it.

"We have a number of experienced players in our side but they too have high-profile players who will be prepared to give a lead. We have to be strongly focused, that's for sure."

Winning may have become something of a way of life for Slaughtneil even though All-Ireland club football honours continue to elude Mickey Moran's side, yet their litany of success at county and provincial level has not been allowed to breed the slightest degree of complacency.

"People may think because we have been winning a few things that we take opponents for granted but I assure you that this is far from the case," said McKaigue.

"We give every team we meet the utmost respect, that's the least they deserve. We are starting from a level playing field and what has happened in the recent past will have no bearing on the outcome of the game.

"We had a very difficult task against Kilcoo in the preliminary round but thankfully we got over the line in the end.

"That match reminded us, as if we needed it, just how tough it can be to make headway in Ulster."

McKaigue's own defensive qualities, allied to those of players such as Brendan Rogers and Francis McEldowney, ensure that Slaughtneil's customary stoic resilience remains a component of their make-up while Patsy Bradley continues to wield considerable influence at midfield, his authority there enhanced via his status as this year's skipper.

Up front, Se McGuigan, Christopher Bradley and Cormac O'Doherty can unveil the finishing power that has unseated several fancied teams in the past.

And should the going get tough, manager Mickey Moran has sufficient ammunition on his bench to bolster his playing resources if and when needed.

For their part, Omagh St Enda's are not exactly hiding their light under a bushel.

The vastly experienced McMahon brothers Joe and Justin, Ronan O'Neill, Barry Tierney and onor Meyler have been round enough corners to cause problems for the Derry and Ulster champions.

They may have called time on their respective county careers but the McMahons still carry a level of power and influence within their club side that helps it to remain a formidable force.

O'Neill showed in Tyrone's colours during the summer that he has retained his ability to convert half-chances while Meyler's work-rate played no small part in bringing Sigerson Cup glory to St Mary's University College while Tierney's versatility and work-rate make him a key cog in the middle third of the field.

The St Enda's desire to relieve Slaughtneil of their provincial crown is palpable.

The challenge they face tonight is to deploy that hunger to their best advantage when the heat is on - as it assuredly will be.

Belfast Telegraph

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