DERRY GAA: Slaughtneil’s Karl McKaigue expects tough Nemo Rangers test

Karl McKaigue in action against Niall Branagan of Kilcoo. (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile)
Karl McKaigue in action against Niall Branagan of Kilcoo. (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile)

AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Club Championship Semi-Final: Slaughtneil v Nemo Rangers (Saturday, Portlaoise, 4.30pm)

The Slaughtneil defender went on an exceptional run across both codes in 2017, keeping a whole host of classy forwards under wraps.

Not only that, but he was chipping in at the other end too. The stat went: in 12 championship games across both codes in 2017, McKaigue scored 0-6, but held his direct opponent scoreless in 11 games.

McKaigue was on the wrong side of the AIB All-Ireland Hurling semi-final clash with Na Piarsaigh on February 10th, but this weekend, he hopes to keep the football dream going against Nemo Rangers on Saturday.

He laughs, though, when his incredible run of form is read out, and when he’s asked if he felt he needed to keep it going.

“No, it probably put a bit of pressure on me!” he smiles. “Stats can be a little bit misleading and I’d usually play a little bit in the full-back line, but during the Ulster club I was finding myself further and further out the field.

“So you’re not as in danger of conceding scores as much as you often would be. It would probably be more indicative of our defensive unit because we don’t seem to concede too much.

“That helps things, especially when you play in Ulster and there’s a lot of games that are 10-9 or 10-8. It’s probably more down to that than any individual performances.

“I was aware but I didn’t realise the scoring because I don’t really score that much.

“I was just aware that I wasn’t shipping scores so just hoping that no one else was really going to say much about it, because you get a bit of a target on your back and people start gunning for you. But hopefully it will continue onto these next few games.”

The Emmet’s defender explains that the hurling loss to Na Piarsaigh was a bitter pill to swallow, in what briefly seemed like a huge opportunity once the Limerick side lost two men to red cards.

“I suppose when I look back on last year (in the All-Ireland semi-final) against Cuala, we weren’t even competitive and that hurt a lot.

“I thought we were in a good place going into that game but we found out that there is a huge gulf between Ulster and All-Ireland level. We were beaten by 13 points last year, and to be honest, it could have been a lot more.

“So this year our main goal, obviously we wanted to win the game, but our main goal was to come down and actually try to be competitive. And we did show when we were winning by three points at half-time and could have been winning by a lot more.

“We registered 10 wides in the first half, and if you had to be going into the second half maybe seven or eight points ahead, you’d be a lot more happy.

“But that’s just the way it worked out on the day. We had a massive chance when Na Piarsaigh got two men sent off early in the second half, and for whatever reason we just capitulated at that stage.

“Or you could say Na Piarsaigh raised their game and it would be unfair on them just to say it was our meltdown, and it was probably their quality that shone through a bit as well.

“It was a disappointing finish but when we look back we’ll be thinking that we have closed the gap a bit. You do have to work a bit extra to get the level of the southern sides which is very difficult to do.”

In this weekend’s clash with Cork giants Nemo, Slaughtneil have an immediate chance to make up for their disappointment.

“Nemo were probably a bit of a surprise package because everyone saw Dr Crokes as heavy favourites in Munster.

“I only saw one of their games which was that Munster final and, from what I seen, they totally bossed Dr Crokes that day. The won by maybe six or seven in the finish, and I thought they might have won by more.

“They have a sprinkle of inter-county players like Paul Kerrigan and Barry O’Driscoll and Luke Connolly, so they’re going to be a very tough task.

“But you know we have played quality teams in the past few years and Nemo are going to be no different, so it’s just all guns blazing now. Hurling is out of the way so we can focus on them.”