Most GAA fans will know Chrissy McKaigue best when he’s wearing his home club colours of maroon and white but, from Monday to Friday, he is more than happy to don the green and black of St. Mary’s, Limavady.
The Robert Emmet’s Slaughtneil defender, the Gaelic Games Co-ordinator at St. Mary’s, has the All Ireland Club football final on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a big day for Chrissy and the club, but it won’t take away from his focus on the boys at school.
“People are talking about GAA being as professional as possible but, for me, if you haven’t got that balance in your life it would be a very stressful one,” says Chrissie, now teaching at the same school as his Slaughtneil manager, and long time St Mary’s teacher, Mickey Moran. “You can train and come to work and take your mind off it and work with all different kinds of boys and different kind of abilities. It’s refreshing, and I’m very happy I have that healthy balance of competing at the top level and then coming in and switching off, and trying a different challenge.”
St. Mary’s recently has made the “bold move” of going into Ulster Colleges football.
“The sixth form boys were beaten by Strabane, a much bigger school that ourselves but they did very well, and probably could have won it on the day, and the third years won their competition,” said Chrissy. “We have high hopes for the fourth years, but we are competing against schools which are much bigger than ourselves and competing well. It’s about giving the boys the chance to play against bigger and better schools and, so far, they’ve done so with great affect.”
Tommy Campbell, St. Mary’s senior teacher, says the move to Ulster colleges “gives the boys a target so when they go back to their own clubs they can improve and get better and get to the top of the ladder so, that’s been a big improvement for us in St Mary’s.”
St. Mary’s players Eunan Murray and Aaron Butcher say the move to Ulster Colleges has certainly upped their game.
“We weren’t here for Mickey Moran’s term, but we are here for Mr McKaigue and he’s just a younger version of Mickey. He brought us into Ulster and gave us a different mentality and gives us the drive to keep improving.” said Eunan.
And Aaron agrees, adding: “The experience Mr McKaigue has is great for young fellas coming up through the ranks. For a young man, he has a great background. He has worked and played with the best.”
While the St. Patrick’s Day game is a way off, one thing Chrissy and his team mates can be sure of is plenty of St. Mary’s support.
“I’m Drumsurn through and through,” says Aaron, smiling, “but I’ll be there cheering on Slaughtneil on St Patrick’s Day.”
Mr Campbell says: “For our pupils to see a club like Slaughtbeil is what the GAA is all about - a small club, family orientated and it’s the main focus of their social lives in the area where they live. It shows you don’t need to be a huge club with huge facilities to do well. Slaughtneil are leading the way this year, and that’s what everyone else should be aspiring to.”