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McKaigue: Winning is all that matters

By Declan Bogue

Two years ago, a Derry versus Down Ulster Championship match produced one of those rare, jaw-dropping days.

At one end, you had Derry's wildly skilful Eoin Bradley facing Down goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh twice and being denied. At the other, Donal O'Hare and Mark Poland nabbed goals to send their side into an Ulster semi-final.

But Derry's star defender Chrissy McKaigue has no interest in thrilling the neutrals again. For him, the bottom line has never been more important. And that's why they will be entirely unapologetic in playing a cautious game tomorrow in Celtic Park (throw-in 2pm).

"Derry and Down are two traditional footballing sides but because every team's doing it now, and because of fitness and conditioning levels, you have to try and keep the door shut at the other end," stated the Slaughtneil man.

"You're not going to win too many games conceding whatever we conceded that day (2-15). You have to give your defence a bit of a hand, and the flipside of doing that is that the defence is a bit more rested and can give the forwards a bit of a hand."

Hopped up on the thrill of seeing a genuine shoot-out, the questions from reporters in the immediate aftermath are always likely to contain one 'any consolation in the fact it was a classic?' blooper. But it never is.

"I remember people saying about it being a fantastic game, but it didn't feel that way. I said in an interview after, it's all about winning," recalled McKaigue. "You train from November and give up so much of your life to try and achieve something. Our ambition is to beat Down. Like Down, and every other Ulster county, we want to try and win an Ulster championship. That is the realistic aim."

It has been Derry, unfairly enough, who have become the poster boys for negative football after they frustrated Dublin in a televised National League game and became entwined with Jarlath Burns' 'Death of football' tweet.

It's not something keeping 25-year-old McKaigue up at night.

"The GAA has a bit of media hype about this blanket defence which has been completely over the top," he said.

"Stakes are high and teams want to give themselves the best chance of winning. What right has anyone to say that a team has to go out and play a certain way? You have the right to go out and play whatever way you think you have the best chance of winning.

"Whether people want to watch it or not, I'm sorry to say that a lot of players don't really care about that. What you see now is the Ulster Championship being one of the most viewed because it's so intriguing. The tactical battles and how competitive the games are, that lifts the viewing figures."

Last year, Derry began their season early but momentum stalled by the time Donegal came to town for the Championship opener. This year things have altered, but McKaigue is steadfast in his assertion that last year was not wasted.

"The reality is that we played Donegal and there wasn't much in it. We made a few mistakes, and Donegal went on to go within a kick of a ball of winning the All-Ireland. Talk about fine margins," he reasoned.

Reflecting on their All-Ireland qualifying exit, with half of the Derry panel carrying injuries from club fixtures, he added: "The Longford game had no real bearing on the bigger truth. You go to play any team with that many men missing and you're going to struggle. It held no reflection on the work that we and Brian McIver had done in the league campaign.

"We did well in the League, though we were probably naive in the final against Dublin. Last year's league was a positive. This year's hasn't gone that way but there are reasons for that too."

Derry (v Down, USFC): T Mallon, O Duffy, B Rogers, D McBride; K Johnston, C McKaigue, C McFaul; N Holly, F Doherty; SL McGoldrick, M Lynch, E Lynn; B Heron, E Bradley, D Heavron.

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