Derry’s talisman Chrissy McKaigue is ready to pound the hammer

The role of the man-marking defender in Gaelic football is not immediately obvious.

One of the match awards usually goes to either the top-scoring forward or the midfielder who gets up to get the odd score and supports that work with some examples of high fielding.

But you gain nothing by not eliminating the opposition’s most dangerous man. As they say in Kerry, you have to ‘bang the hammer’.

For years, Chrissy McKaigue has managed to combine defending with the ball and making things happen.

In 2017 he played as a central defender in an All Ireland Club semi-final for Slaughtneil against Dublin superclub St Vincent’s.

Before throwing in, he shook hands with perhaps the world’s most gifted striker, Diarmuid Connolly.

It was becoming a long afternoon for Connolly. He scored a point himself but could only watch as McKaigue sauntered forward from the game for four points.

That role of prolific defender has now passed from McKaigue to club-mate Brendan Rogers. Instead, McKaigue is given the job of tagging the opposition’s dangerous man and must stay there, invading his space and making life unbearable.

His championship began with Tyrone’s Darren McCurry. The Edendork man escaped to score two wonderful points. Since then there has been a total shutdown. Monaghan’s Jack McCarron followed and remained goalless. The same goes for Donegal’s Patrick McBrearty.

Prior to the All-Ireland Quarterfinals, Clares Keelan Sexton was their most successful attacker. After 53 minutes, he was pulled off with nothing to fill in the brackets after his name.

At 33, McKaigue is asking a lot. But it’s no surprise to his former manager Brian McIver.

“Chrissy would totally agree. Give him a job and he’ll do it. He’ll do his homework – and if that’s what the team needs, he’ll do it,” he says.

“He has the discipline to do that to get the job done on a Paddy McBrearty.”

Former Derry team-mate Gerard O’Kane believes it takes a totally selfless person to do what he does.

“You have to be really focused, really determined and disciplined with the kind of role he’s playing,” explains O’Kane. “I’ll be honest here, I could never have done what he’s doing.

“Okay, you want to be involved in the game, but you never see Chrissy score anymore. Other guys are doing that now and remember he scored the four points ahead of Diarmuid Connolly that day in Newry.

Asked to summarize the man, McIver beams with approval. “I would say he is incredibly dedicated and no one could ever say he didn’t give 100 per cent every single night he showed up for practice or every game he played. He’s totally, totally dedicated,” he says.

“And on top of that, he gives a great lead. Even when Derry was struggling in games he gave that lead to other players and younger guys coming in and set very high standards.

McKaigue has never been one to stand by and not speak his mind, but he seems to have found his perfect match in manager Rory Gallagher.

This view is shared by Slaughtneil’s hurling manager Michael McShane, who has appointed McKaigue as his captain.

“I don’t know Rory Gallagher, but when I look at him, read about him, watch him on the sidelines, he’s very intense and seems to be dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’. Chrissy would be a similar character, so they would be a good partnership,” he says.

“I know for a fact that Chrissy is a serial winner, Rory Gallagher is the same and Chrissy would leave no stone unturned to win an All-Ireland. I could imagine that the two men would be a good match.”

And yet, McKaigue’s career hasn’t been as if Batman awaited the arrival of his Robin.

He had moments when he did his own thing. Like in April 2017, when he decided to become one of those rarest creatures — the Dual Player — and began flinging for his county under Collie McGurk. A year later, McGurk even made him captain.

Do you see the trend here? He has the captaincy of every team he plays on.

He’s not known for making a fuss about socializing, but he’s relaxed his own self-discipline and has been hanging out with his teammates in the evenings after big games this year.

But one of the things that pleases him the most is that when they got back from their recent celebrations in Ulster, the dial had shifted.

He had expected most to be content with their lot, but this was not the case.

“I’ll say that very honestly,” he says. “One of the best compliments I can say about this group is that the meeting we had in Owenbeg, after winning the Anglo-Celt, when we got back to training there was no vertigo – which I think due to the age profile of the team.

“There was something like, ‘We’ve achieved that, what’s next?’

“When I went home and actually thought about it, well how would it be any different when you have Conor Glass, Shane McGuigan and all these guys who were never used to anything but winning; Schools, MacRory Cup, Hogan Cups, Derry Minors, Derry U-20s and their clubs are thriving.

“They’re playing against players they’ve already beaten at underage level, there’s no inferiority complex, there’s no baggage.”

No mental scars either. They come through the ranks with a built-in superiority.

Any threat of that rounding their edges was answered by the way they approached Clare in the quarterfinals.

They investigated how Kerry managed to finish their games early as a contest and went berserk

Now they have a different motivation when taking on Galway, a team that has hosed them down in front of their fans at home.

You will be going out, coached and rehearsed and superbly managed. And led by an exemplary player. The hammer for the hammers.

Territory Footballer of the Year? We will see. Derry’s talisman Chrissy McKaigue is ready to pound the hammer

Fry Electronics Team

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