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Multi-talented McKaigue is the man for all seasons

By Declan Bogue

Two short yarns show us the nature of Chrissy McKaigue, the Derry footballer who will captain the Slaughtneil hurlers in the Ulster final against Loughgiel tomorrow.

Last Sunday, Slaughtneil beat the Loup and won their fourth ever Derry Football Championship, completing a three-in-a-row success. The team had something to eat and travelled back to their clubhouse.

Instead of going in and joining the celebrations, McKaigue and a dozen others made their way to Hugh Carey's Cryospa in Toomebridge to ease their weary bones into sub-zero waters. Already, their preparations for the hurling final had begun.

Teddy Sheringham used to scoff at Gary Neville walking lengths of the aisle during a plane journey home from a European fixture with Manchester United. Neville insisted it was part of his warm-down procedure. Sheringham didn't win a fraction of Neville's haul.

And last year in the dressing rooms at Celtic Park, there was some giddy behaviour when Slaughtneil successfully defended their football title. A crucial hurling fixture was set for the following week.

McKaigue said only one thing - to the effect that if some lads wanted to go drinking that night, they had no business turning up at the hurling training field on Tuesday.

As a man who has already tasted the life as a professional athlete with Sydney Swans in the AFL, and played for Ireland in the International Rules series, McKaigue stands out for his ultimate professionalism.

Paul Earley, McKaigue's Ireland manager for two International Rules series, said: "His attitude is one of his greatest positives.

"The fact that he has a huge workload doesn't faze him at all. He enjoys it. He is hugely committed to his club. He doesn't see it as a chore or a sacrifice. He is a very authentic individual."

Brian McIver, his former county football manager, speaks of his dependability.

"I ran a wee coaching course last year on a Sunday for Junior and Intermediate coaches in Derry," he recalled.

"I had Chrissy lined up to do a wee bit of work in the morning.

"You just knew that when Chrissy said, 'Yeah, that's fine Brian, I will do that, what time?' That was him. You didn't have to send Chrissy McKaigue another message.

"When you ask for commitment, that is exactly what you are going to get. That applies on and off the pitch, in the changing rooms, it applies in preparation, everything. He is definitely one of the most committed players I have had the pleasure of working with."

McIver also notes the work McKaigue is doing as a Gaelic development coach in St Mary's, Limavady. The school revived Gaelic Games with his appointment in 2015. Earlier this year, they won the Under-19 Ward Cup under his management.

His former Slaughtneil hurling manager, Mickey Glover, revealed that McKaigue simply never missed a club hurling session.

Steeped in sport and education all his working life and a current sports development manager with the Ulster Council, Glover was always keen to pick his brains about what he learned in Australia while with the 'Swannies'.

"I remember him saying to me that people were of the opinion that people went away to play AFL and came back really bulked up, really muscular," he recalled.

"He told me everything had changed, the training was designed to make the players more lean so they could do more running.

"He also told me the players were individually managed by the physiologists and nutritionists. They dictated when they trained.

"I suppose that education in sport has helped him as a Gaelic footballer because you see his professionalism and he was able to bring that back into the club.

"Sometimes he doesn't have the best of games and he knows that himself, but he will do what he has to do and get through it regardless and drive people on.

"Sunday could be a different day. I think Slaughtneil can win the Championship, especially with Chrissy as captain as well."

While Glover was in charge, he established an enlightened and healthy relationship with football counterpart Mickey Moran, which determined that dual players would attend the training of whichever sport they were playing that weekend.

It has continued since Michael McShane came in for the hurlers, but a crucial facet has been the introduction of strength and conditioning expert and former Eamonn O'Kane trainer, Ollie Cummings, for both squads.

The real benefits of this kind of work has never been about acquiring muscles that look good in a disco shirt, but in injury prevention.

"I noticed it in 2013 and 2014 when I changed how we worked and how we prepared for matches," admitted Glover.

"But he has very few injuries. Considering what he has to do as a dual player, there is an importance of looking after the players. He doesn't ask - he expects players to be at their best when they step onto the pitch because that's the way he is driven.

"He is always mentally prepared, in good physical condition and giving advice to lads, but when he is let onto the pitch, he demands that you give everything as well."

A few weeks into his Swans career in Sydney, McKaigue told a reporter: "I've taken a few knocks at training but that's part and parcel of it. Here, when players get a knock, their first instinct is to try to get straight up again.

"Their mentality is to be as tough and brave as they can. That's how you earn respect off your team-mates here, there's no room for complainers."

McKaigue also enjoys the advantage of living with his brother Karl, who is a physio and presumably deals with any niggles in prompt fashion.

It all goes into keeping him right so that he can get onto the pitch. And you cannot underestimate what an Ulster hurling title might mean for Slaughtneil.

Glover believes they are capable of delivering.

"Slaughtneil didn't really have any competition in Derry at all," he stated.

"Loughgiel had tough enough competition, especially in the final and the semi-final and they seem to be hurling very well.

"Loughgiel might have more hurling in them, but Slaughtneil have an awful lot of fight and a hunger to win this Ulster Championship after being so close for the last number of years."

They certainly won't lack leadership.

  • Slaughtneil v Loughgiel, Ulster Senior Hurling Final: Athletics Grounds, Armagh, Sunday, 2.30pm

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