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'The kids at school say it's not a very glamorous task but every team needs stoppers'

Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue breaks down his defensive role.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

DERRY’S CAPTAIN OFTEN has no interest in the ball. Regularly he can be seen in the full-back line with his back to the play. Eyes only on his opponent. Facing his man, shackling the sharpshooter.

That is Chrissy McKaigue’s style and a role he relishes. 

“I just found myself in that role, even when I was playing out the pitch for Slaughtneil,” he explains.

“I played the vast amount of my inter-county career in the full-back line and it’s a very different role. The kids at school that I teach would say it’s not a very glamorous task but
every team needs stoppers. It’s hugely fulfilling.

“I would say it’s satisfying to know that you are given the trust to go out and mark the marquee players so it’s more that. But you are always aware that every day you go out there is always a potential problem there so you stay grounded and you stay humble. As long as I can play that role or one of those roles it’s something that I get satisfaction from.

“Sometimes even against the marquee players, breaking even is as good as you can manage.”

christopher-mckaigue Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

Against Monaghan, McKaigue was on Jack McCarron. In the Ulster final, he picked up McBreaty. It was one small part of Rory Gallagher’s grand plan. In Derry, he has had a transformative impact. 

McKaigue knew what to expect thanks to fellow inter-county players. He is not sure the same could be said for his manager. 

“You’d always here snippets of how well received he was in Donegal. Jim McGuinness was a very special man – still is – but many of the Donegal players made no secret of how big an impact Rory Gallagher made on them and I know he’s very friendly with the McHughs, Eoghan Bán and Hugh McFadden.

“They would have spoken very highly of him. When he came in, I think he’d laugh about it now, but I don’t think he realised how bad a place Derry were in.

“He was probably caught unawares in the first year – we were in a really bad place – tactically we had no idea, culturally we were in a bad place in terms of the environment needed to compete with the top teams.

“Covid came at a good time for us because we were in disarray to a fair extent, because we had a bit of time to fix where we were at, what we needed to change.

“Last year was when we started to see performances, albeit in Division Three that there was something to work with.”

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Now Derry believe. Backed up by tangible evidence. They travel to Croke Park this weekend to face Clare with the Anglo-Celt Cup already secure. Victories over three giants of Ulster. 

For McKaigue, that matters. They can say they belong at the top table now. 

“You can think you are good enough, and you can think that you can compete with the big boys. But until you beat them, it’s massive. We beat the three teams that have been dominant in Ulster for the last decade, especially Tyrone and Donegal.

“So for that younger group to have announced themselves like that, I mean, you can’t replicate those sort of pressure environments or occasions. You either can play in them or you can’t.

“Whatever happens this year, we can now say that we can compete with the better teams.”

- Originally published at 8:10am

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Maurice Brosnan

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