Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue has spoke of his great relationship with manager Rory Gallagher ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Clare at Croke Park.
“We have a very, very close relationship but the boys laugh too that our relationship is more open and honest than most of the players”, insisted McKaigue.
“We’d have a go at each other at times but we’re very, very close and probably in many ways we share similar personality traits.
“Along with my parents, he must be the only person that calls me Christopher.”
The Slaughtneil man takes great pride in the role he takes up in the starting 15. An appreciation to perform a job and know the manager backs and trusts you is hugely rewarding for him.
“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.
“Sometimes even against the marquee players, breaking even is as good as you can manage.
“At this stage of my career I appreciate more the leadership side of things.”
He is enjoying this stage of his career and with an Ulster medal in his back pocket, who could blame him. As an experienced player, McKaigue has tried to pass on responsibilities to the younger players coming through which has helped him perform better.
“I’ve tried to nurture more of the players on the pitch and off the pitch and I suppose in many ways that’s taken a big load of the pressure off me from my own performance. I can look past my own performance.
“There was too long in my own career when I couldn’t do that. So I am really enjoying this stage of my career”
The captain had no doubts Gallagher was a great appointment for Derry football after his previous work with Donegal.
“When he got the job, you’d always here snippets of how well received he was in Donegal. Jim McGuinness was a very special man — still is — but a lot of the Donegal players made no secret of the fact of how big an impact Rory Gallagher made on them.”
McKaigue highlighted the state Derry GAA was in before Gallagher took over. No Ulster Championship title since 1998 and a lack of belief in their ability to compete against the Tyrone’s and Donegal’s of this world. Gallagher was set to change all of that.
“When he came in, and I think he’d laugh about it now, 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 and 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 3 that there was something to work with.
“It’s a great pity there were no qualifiers last year because even though Donegal beat us, we felt we were in a really great place so we were desperate to get back this year again, but it’s a testament to Rory that we’ve came back and proven that that wasn’t just a one-off game.”
Bringing the Anglo Celt Cup back to Derry for the first time 24 years has brought with it a new-found confidence in this team that they can compete and overcome the big boys of GAA football in Ireland.
“Because 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.’
“I mean, you can’t replicate those sort of pressure environments, you can’t replicate those sort of occasions.
“You either can play in them or you can’t.”
He is looking forward to the future as a county heads in a new direction.
“Whatever happens this year, we can now say that we can compete with the better teams.”
Throw-in on Saturday is 3:45pm