McKaigue not down under Aussie cloud
The fact that Chrissy McKaigue did not get the terms he sought when his contract with Sydney Swans was up for renewal in the AFL could yet prove a major blessing in disguise for Derry.
The 22-year-old Slaughtneil player had spent the best part of two years Down Under and had hoped to pursue a career in Australian Rules, his physical assets, fitness and commitment having cemented the general belief that his future lay with the Swans.
But when it became clear that his career with the club was not progressing as he had envisaged, McKaigue did not allow the grass to grow under his feet.
He returned home to re-join Slaughtneil and launch his bid to resurrect his county career.
The advances he has made since turning his back on the oval ball code in favour of gaelic football are likely to be brought sharply into focus when he lines out at full-back for Derry against Donegal in the last of the Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final ties on Saturday.
McKaigue certainly harbours no regrets about his decision to turn his back on life as a full-time sportsman in Australia.
“You make peace with yourself in relation to decisions and you move on from there,” reflects McKaigue. “Another year on the rookie list with a club in Australia which was competing for Premiership honours was not in my thinking.
“That’s not an excuse, that’s just reality. I’m happy to be back playing with my club and to be involved with the county squad under John Brennan.
“I still hope to have a long career ahead of me.”
While he may not have achieved his ultimate goal in Australia, he stresses that he is now benefiting from a number of positives which he takes from his experience.
“When you are away from your family and club, you learn how to acquire mental toughness. And when you are training full-time you learn a lot about your body and about elements such as diet, conditioning, rehabilitation and self-motivation,” insists McKaigue.
And he is convinced that Australian Rules and gaelic football have much in common even though one code is totally professional.
“There is an aura about the AFL that its players are miles ahead of everybody but that’s not really the case. Gaelic football is developing really fast, there is tremendous emphasis on training and conditioning, the players make massive sacrifices and they are prepared to push themselves to the limit so we are not far away from our AFL brothers,” states McKaigue.
On Saturday he will face a Donegal attack that is again likely to be without Michael Murphy but which will contain polished finishers in Patrick McBrearty, Colm McFadden and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy.
In the absence of Murphy, McKaigue could be detailed to mark the free-scoring McFadden.
“I learned a lot during the league and I’m also playing full-back for my club now. I have become more adjusted to the position but obviously Donegal will be a huge test for us all.
“They beat Derry in last year’s Ulster final and will want to repeat that win. It does not matter whether I am marking Colm McFadden or anyone else, Donegal have quality forwards and we will need to be at our best if we are to win.”