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Slaughtneil's Chrissy McKaigue in high demand

Slaughtneil ace will jet off for Irish duty with McManus after battling at club level

By Declan Bogue

Slaughtneil Robert Emmet's have just come through a rather schizophrenic performance in landing their first win in Ulster club football over Cavan Gaels in Owenbeg.

They have huddled up in the dank and the dark, congratulating themselves on hanging on long enough, before drawing a line under it and looking ahead.

Clontibret, in Omagh, are up next weekend. That's what it becomes all about. And in that game, Chrissy McKaigue will surely be detailed with a marking job on Conor McManus, one of the most in-form forwards left in the club Championships, behind only Diarmuid Connolly.

As soon as that contest is decided though, both men will likely be spirited away to Dublin to catch a flight to Perth, where they will link up as two highly-important components of the Irish International Rules team.

"It's been set in stone that no matter what happens in the club Championship, we are still going to Australia. We have worked awfully hard this past seven or eight weeks and we will get our chance to go. But for now, we will be focusing on our club duties," says 25-year-old student McKaigue.

The logistics need to be ironed out, but when you are facing the might of Australia in a year that the AFL are keen to impress they are taking it seriously this time, you need your experienced men.

As a former Sydney Swans AFL player, McKaigue is essential to the side and it comes as no surprise that he and Ireland manager Paul Earley are in regular contact.

"I need to talk to Paul Earley. I am sure he knows anyway and we will have to talk logistics then. As far as I know the GAA will have it organised anyway," he says.

Should Slaughtneil upset the bookies' odds and beat favourites Clontibret, then McKaigue will be in a different hemisphere while his clubmates begin preparations for an Ulster club final. His time is much in demand, but don't expect him to find a downside.

"That's sport," he says.

"I have had enough ups and downs in my short career so far to know that's the nature of sport and you just have to embrace it. These kind of days don't come along too often. The reality is they don't.

"I am just going to savour this week, playing an Ulster semi-final on Sunday and so is Conor. It's going to be some battle again, so you can't complain too much."

He also maintains that far from using humour as a buffer between the two men while they spend time together training and preparing to add to their tally of International caps, a "healthy distance" has been observed.

"We are keeping a healthy distance away from each other. Clontibret have more than Conor McManus and Slaughtneil have certainly more than me. So it will be an epic battle."

Before last weekend, we already knew that the Seamus McFerran Cup was going to have a new name etched on it. The fall of St Gall's and Crossmaglen Rangers surprised many, but McKaigue feels that the nature of the Ulster provincial county Championships produces a trickle-down effect into the club game.

"Ulster's always going to be competitive, no matter what team in Ulster, they can beat any other team on any given day and I don't think the same can be said of the other three provinces with all due respect," he explains. "They are all top-grade inter-county senior teams so it's no surprise that their club teams are strong."

He continues: "I know the journalists and you guys will be saying it's wide open, but at the same time you still have to win three games to win an Ulster Championship - in Clontibret's case maybe four - but you have to beat who is in front of you."

For Slaughtneil to win it all, they must address a worrying tendency to fall away for stages of games. Assistant manager John Joe Kearney admitted after their win that they were "hanging on" when Seanie Johnston inexplicably missed a manageable free kick in injury time to take the contest to extra-time.

"We kind of lost our way," is McKaigue's assessment, although he was faultless in his own personal performance, keeping his direct marker Micheál Lyng scoreless and snuffing out his influence.

"After the first half we talked about keeping it really simple, working the ball through the hands," he continued.

"They had set up a bit of a screen in defence and then in the second half we maybe got ahead of ourselves and started kicking the ball.

"We have done that a few times this year, good first half, bad second half so we need to get back on the ground."

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