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04 Jul 2022

ULSTER SFC: ‘We’ve arrived at the top table’

'The supporters were unbelievable,' said the Derry captain.

ULSTER SFC: ‘We’ve arrived at the top table’

Chrissy McKaigue celebrates with Derry supporters after the game. Pic by Sportsfile/Ramsey Cardy.

If you could mould yourself a captain for your sports team, you couldn’t manufacture one much better than Chrissy McKaigue.

A man who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, who will say the hard truths and who won’t ask any players to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

When Chrissy speaks, people listen. And his impassioned speech on the steps of Clones on Sunday brought a hush to the crowd. Stick with us, he asked, because this group deserve it.

“The supporters were unbelievable and the county needed that lift but as I said in my speech, stick by us now through good days and bad days because when you’re at the peaky end of this competition playing against the best teams, which we hope to be doing, you’re going to have the odd day when you’re not going to win, but you just have to dust yourself down and do it,” McKaigue told the County Derry Post.

“Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan have been living proof of that in this province. Yes we did well today and we’ll enjoy it, but we want to get better.

"That age profile of that team – we want to kick on and get better and better, and not make this an isolated occurrence.”

From having a five-point cushion midway through the first half to finding themselves level moments into the second, McKaigue always knew that Sunday’s encounter was going to be one of high intensity, big moments, and calls for resilience.

At times it had shades of a year previous in Ballybofey - perhaps more headlines about Derry showing good spirit but ultimately not being able to get the result.

But the Slaughtneil man and his team mates dug in hard, they never gave up, they committed to one another with their bravery and desire, and they got the ultimate reward – although the captain feels there’s more to come!

“It’s unbelievable. I just felt during the game that things weren’t going for us and I suppose at the back of your mind you’re thinking about how long this group has been together – it hasn’t been a quick fix project.

"You felt that the desire on the last couple of balls was evident,” he stated.

“It’s unbelievably satisfying but I suppose part of me would be a wee bit annoyed that we didn’t make it more comfortable in stages.

"Then again you look at it more logical too and Donegal are just unbelievable warriors and unbelievable champions and just so hard to beat, no matter what way they play.

"It was always going to be a hard Ulster to win and we certainly have done it in a very satisfying way.”

McKaigue has seen many great players come and go from the county set-up without ever experiencing that feeling of an Ulster medal.

Sunday’s battle was a testament as to why the Ulster championship is some of the best the GAA has to offer. It’s elite. If you want to win, you better be as close to flawless as you ever have been.

“Donegal are tactically unbelievable and have some brilliant players. People might say that at times the game wasn’t easy watched but when you have teams so well coached and so well tuned in, that’s what happens.

"It wasn’t an easy game to play with the level of concentration and focus. One mistake was going to cost us that game so it’s hugely satisfying to know that we’ve definitely arrived at the top table now, but nothing can beat winning a major championship and it’s been long overdue for Derry.

He continued: “This is my 13th season and I missed two in Australia so 15 seasons more or less but it’s not about me or about anybody else, it’s about the collective.

"That’s one thing that in our changing room is that the collective always comes first. Nobody trumps the team and when you have that type of environment that the team comes first, special things can happen.”

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