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Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 23 September 2020

It didn't work out with Sydney but it is with Slaughtneil as Croke Park beckons

Gaelic football progress has been welcome for Derry’s Chrissy McKaigue.

Chrissy McKaigue celebrates Slaughtneil's win on Sunday.
Chrissy McKaigue celebrates Slaughtneil's win on Sunday.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

IN 2007, CHRISSY  McKaigue came to prominence with the Derry minor football team that reached the All-Ireland final.

They lost out that day to Galway, falling the wrong side of a 1-10 to 1-9 scoreline. But eight years on and the 25 year-old is inching closer to realising his All-Ireland dream.

On St Patrick’s Day his club Slaughtneil, who draw their players from a tiny community in south Derry, will contest the AIB All-Ireland club decider.

McKaigue’s sporting career has meandered since that 2007 minor reversal. His Gaelic football skills grabbed the attention of Aussie Rules scouts and and after being initially approached by Carlton, he joined the Sydney Swans in 2009. He was released by them at the end of 2011 and has lined out for the Derry senior side in recent years.

The prospect of an AFL career in sun-soaked arenas may be gone but standing in the drizzle and gloom of O’Moore Park on Sunday, he radiated content after Slaughtneil’s one-point win in a frenetic semi-final tussle against Austin Stacks.

“Mickey Moran’s a big believer in destiny so please God my destiny is to stand along with all them great men and have an All-Ireland club medal. I’m starting to become a believer after Mickey said that.

“You couldn’t replicate it (in Australia). If we won it would be unbelievably special, but if we get beat it’s going to be nowhere near as special. It’s a harsh game we’re involved in. No one remembers the losers unfortunately.”

Mickey Moran Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

McKaigue and his club mates have required persistence and patience to reach this stage.

“I’m 25 now and beaten by Ballinderry in two county finals previous to last year’s county final. You’re thinking to yourself, thank God, I’ve a county title in Derry because it’s a really treasured kind of medal. Then to win an Ulster and then to get to an All-Ireland final and be 60 minutes away from an All-Ireland club medal, is quite literally the stuff of dreams.

“These boys have been around some of them for the best part of a decade. They won a county title in 2004, first ever county title. Setback after setback against Ballinderry, one of the best teams in Ulster for years and we just couldn’t get past them. So we got past them this year and look what’s happened.”

Kieran Donaghy is tackled by Brendan Rodgers, Conan Cassidy and Barry McGuigan Kieran Donaghy in action against Slaughtneil. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

They are now an hour away from following in the footsteps of Derry neighbours Bellaghy (1972), Lavey (1991) and Ballinderry (2002). But that didn’t look in the offing when Austin Stacks hammered home two early goals on Sunday and McKaigue found himself having conceded two penalties for fouls on Kieran Donaghy in the opening 17 minutes.

“They were two great balls delivered into him and he was very, very strong. I was able to marshal him out but I know I’m not going to be crying sour grapes, they were given and that’s just the way it is.

“Centre half-back probably suited me better anyway. I’ve been around long enough to know that. It’s a sign of character in our team to come back from the depths of despair and by God, our team has character.”

O’Doherty the hero as Slaughtneil see off Austin Stacks to reach All-Ireland senior club final

Kieran Donaghy produced this ferocious shoulder in today’s All-Ireland semi-final

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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