All that’s left for Karl McKaigue is an All-Ireland title
BY SHANE STAPLETON
All that’s left for Karl McKaigue is an All-Ireland title. Ulster titles: check. Derry glory: most certainly. Both codes, in fact, for both. All-Ireland medals: negative. The two finals he’s played in, 2015 and ‘17, have ended in defeat.
On February 10th, at Parnell Park, Na Piarsaigh of Limerick ended Slaughtneil’s pursuit of the AIB club hurling title, at the same stage they fell to Cuala in 2017.
The never-ending dual pursuit means that McKaigue spends an incredible amount of time each season pushing for the holy grail. It hasn't yet happened, but everything is geared towards it.
As the quote from The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ goes: “I’m like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one.”
“I said that's myself whenever I won my first Derry championship,” smiles McKaigue, ahead of this weekend’s AIB All-Ireland SFC semi-final clash with Nemo Rangers.
“Because all I did want to do was win that first Derry. Then maybe you want an Ulster, and you'll always find a new set of goals or ambitions to try and work towards. So I wouldn't be too worried about having that empty feeling after winning one (All-Ireland).”
“Because we've won Ulster, of course the only thing left is the All-Ireland,” he explains.
“Slaughtneil have obviously failed at that final hurdle twice. We said we left a football one behind us last year (against Dr Crokes) so that is what the ambition is in the club.
“But again we're not going to be looking at an All-Ireland final yet because we have to get past Nemo.”
Few would argue that the Derry champions weren't in pole position during last year’s All-Ireland final with Croke’s. Padraig Cassidy found the net for Slaughtneil early on but found himself red-carded before the break, and the wheels came off.
“You'll probably never get a better chance than last year. We were 20 minutes into the game and looking like we could win an All-Ireland. We got a goal and all the momentum was with us and we started putting them on the back foot.
“Then all the sudden it all sort of came crashing down when Padraig got that red card and, after that, Crokes just sort of squeezed the life of the game. They got men behind the ball and kept chipping in with scores, and they were never committing too many to the attack, they were always leaving themselves well covered at the back.
“They did what a good side does and seen out the game. Whatever they needed to do. Certainly, from our point of view, it is one that we feel we did leave behind us, a great chance. You look back to the Corofin game in 2015, and a bit like the hurling (semi-final against Cuala) in 2017, we weren't even competitive in the final.
“We were eight points down at half-time and lost by ten (1-14 to 0-7). So it's hard to be too disappointed by that because you were never really in the game to win it. But the Crokes game was a totally different kettle of fish because you were so competitive, and you were in pole position, and we did leave it behind us.
“But again you learn from these things, and hopefully we can put it to use coming into this year's campaign. As I said, we’re not in the final yet and obviously have a tough task with Nemo Rangers in front of us, but certainly we're using that as motivation to try and push on this year.”
McKaigue admits that he’s more of a football man, and tends to join up with the club hurling side as the championship approaches. No doubt, he’s been a huge part of the success in both codes.
So too has his brother Chrissy, and Karl jokes about the amount of media coverage his sibling has had. Though the days of ribbing Chrissy over it have come and gone.
“I think that stage has come and gone because he's got that much abuse, and no one even tries to give him abuse anymore. They're just used to him being the media man and that's just the way It is.”
The club, too, has been the focus of much attention. They are seen as all that is positive in the GAA, embracing a community spirit, Irish culture, and making the most of both codes. Of course, being in the spotlight means greater scrutiny.
“It's hard to know. When you started to get this limelight at the start, it’s sort of great because everyone was backing it. Now that we've been doing it for a wee while, people might be starting to get a wee bit sick of it, thinking ‘I’m tired of hearing about Slaughtneil and what they're doing’.
“We put a lot of work into the three codes (including camogie), and we did have a lot of dry years for a long time, and we have reaped the rewards of the work that have gone in.
“I think there are a lot of people who do deserve credit for where the club is at the minute. Given the quality people we have at the club we know that the work will continue no matter what happens on the pitch.”