Slaughtneil success built on culture and community
By John Harrington
Chrissy McKaigue believes the strong culture embedded in both the GAA club and its local community is the secret to Slaughtneil’s success.
If they defeat Cavan Gaels in Sunday’s AIB Ulster Club SFC Final they’ll have completed a clean sweep of Ulster Senior Football, Hurling, and Camogie titles for the second year in a row.
That would be an absolutely mind-boggling achievement, and centre-back McKaigue doesn’t think they would be just one more win from doing it were the club not rooted in such a tight-knit community.
“If you go to Slaughtneil, there's so many different schemes and projects going on for the last number of decades,” he told GAA.ie.
“We've really honed in on the area of promoting Irish culture, Irish language. We've our own Irish primary school, there's an Irish secondary school just formed about five or six miles up the road.
“So all them things have really helped because once there's jobs it means people aren't emigrating. We're hanging on to all our players and we don't have any other sports to actually compete with. You would see that in our young people nowadays.
“They're just driven to play Gaelic Games, they're very aware of their heritage, they're very aware of what Slaughtneil represents and when you have that, you can create a good culture.
“And I don't care what anybody says, if you don't have a strong culture in a team or a community, you're going nowhere. That's one thing Slaughtneil doesn't lack.”
Nestled in the foothills of the Sperrin mountains in south Derry, Slaughtneil draw their teams from little more than 300-households.
And whenever they play a match, whether it’s the men’s footballers or hurlers or the women’s camogie team, the community as a whole comes out to support them.
“It's not just the en vogue thing at the minute,” said McKaigue. “Slaughtneil was formed in 1953 and for a lot of years there wasn't any success but our games were always well attended - hurling, football and camogie.
“There was always the support for them whether they were a successful team or an unsuccessful team. That's the barometer. There's no point just going out to support teams if they're winning.
“That's not what we're about as a club or as a community. We're about hanging in and supporting each other.
“It just so happens that we have a group of players in all three codes that are pretty talented and pretty committed and success has followed them so far.”
Slaughtneil’s camogie team won the All-Ireland earlier this year but their hurlers were beaten by Cuala in the All-Ireland semi-final and their footballers came up just short against Dr. Crokes in the AIB All-Ireland SFC Club Final.
That was the second All-Ireland Final the footballers have lost in three years and it was a hard one to take because the result might have been different had they not lost Padraig Cassidy to a red card just before half-time.
It says a lot about the mentality of the team that they’ve bounced back from that disappointment and are now just two wins away from reaching yet another All-Ireland Final.
“Probably our best trait as a club and a team is our unity,” said McKaigue. “It makes up for an awful lot of the other flaws that we have.
“Last year hurt a lot, but I think the fact that we won Derry this year, the fourth title in a row, and we now join a band of teams that include two, ourselves and Bellaghy, they won four-in-a-row back in the sixties.
“That in itself was a massive thing for the club, to actually do that. After that it was just kind of step by step.
“We played Kilcoo in the preliminary round in Ulster having beaten them in the decider last year so that just proves how competitive Ulster is, it's an absolute dog-fight at all times.
"We're happy to be in the Final at the minute, but when you get to a Final you obviously want to win it.
“We're very happy to be there. It's our third Ulster Final in four years which for us is massive. Sometimes it's very easy to get caught up and lose a sense of perspective, because until 2004 we had never won a county football title. We've made decent progress.”
McKaigue is expecting a tough test from a Cavan Gaels team that is unbeaten all year in Sunday’s Ulster Final.
But he’s confident too that this Slaughtneil team is still getting better and better.
“I think as a team we've definitely improved,” he said. “But that's probably as much a result of the age profile of our team. The younger boys who were very young last year have physically and mentally matured a lot in a year.
“That probably came from being exposed to playing big games against good teams and all the rest.
“And Mickey Moran is a massive believer in improving everyone too. He would just walk away if that wasn't happening, he's very meticulous that way. Things are moving in the right direction.”