Championship season starts with Limerick says Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue

Captain Chrissy McKaigue says the make-or-break semi-final against Limerick  will be Derry’s first ‘championship’ game of the season as the Oak Leafers’ promotion hopes are decided over 70 minutes in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon.

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 11:09 am

Derry have impressed in group victories over Longford, Fermanagh and Cavan but that counts for nothing now as counties across the country put their league fate on the line in the winner-takes-all ties.

It’s championship football in all but name and while McKaigue admits it’s been a novel league structure this season, he says Derry should relish the opportunity they have.

“That’s the bizarre thing about this league. We’ve won three games, we’ve by far the best scoring difference, and we’re still not guaranteed to go up,” explained the Oak Leaf captain, “We weren’t even guaranteed home advantage. It’s definitely strange but it keeps you grounded because you know now this is your first Championship game.

Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue. (Photo: George Sweeney)

“Those first three games were great to win and we learnt lots, we’ve improved lots, but the reality is if we don’t beat Limerick our work here is redundant. We need to get prepared right because this is our first Championship game of the year, there’s no hiding away from that.”

Limerick defeated Wicklow by 2-19 to 1-12 to tie up second spot in the southern group and McKaigue is expecting a physical encounter on Saturday, June 12th when the counties meet in the Leitrim venue.

“We played them two years ago down in Limerick,” added the Slaughtneil player, “They’re a big, strong physical side, massive men, well drilled, and as they’ve shown in their last two league campaigns, they’re a match for most.

“It is not going to be easy but we’ve done our job up to now. You’re relatively happy that you’ve got this far but this is the first Championship game of the year because this group of players want to get promoted and need to get promoted.”

And despite registering a third win in three league games to top Division Three North, Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue has warned they have to develop more consistency if they are to challenge the top teams in Ulster. McKaigue pointed to a number of missed opportunities which he said allowed Cavan back into a game Derry had looked in total control of.

At one stage Rory Gallagher’s men led 1-13 to 1-06 before the second half water break signalled a momentum shift that brought the hosts back to within one point and McKaigue believes the Oak Leafers have to manage games better.

“Not overly,” answered McKaigue when asked if he was happy with the visitors’ display in Kingspan Breffni, “I thought our good play was really good today but our poor play was really poor. That’s something we’re working on, to try and become more consistent. We’re not going to really challenge the top teams in Ulster if we’re not more consistent than that, to be honest.

“In saying that, some of our chances today, if we had scored even one of those goal chances, it does change the complexion of the game but we’re not taking them. We’re not taking them.”

Despite hitting a combined 6-50 in their three league games against Longford, Fermanagh and Cavan, McKaigue believes Derry need to be ruthless when chances present themselves.

“We haven’t been clinical enough in the first three games and we know that,” he added, “We need to get better because as you can see at this level, a missed goal opportunity or a couple of missed chances, it can give the other team oxygen, give them energy and Cavan fed off our own mistakes today. As dogged and as spirited as they were, we contributed a lot to our own downfall, there’s no doubt about that.”

Rory Gallagher had claimed prior to the match that Cavan would provide Derry with their sternest test of the season so far and McKaigue was happy to see Derry stand up to the challenge of the Ulster champions and he’s hoping they can learn from the game.

“Maybe for some (the intensity of the game) was a help, aye, I suppose it was. It was spirited from us. We didn’t lie down, Cavan aren’t going to lie down, they’re Ulster champions, with probably a few more seasoned players than us. But we need to learn quick and we need to get better quickly because some of the mistakes we made will not be good enough going forward.

“As a group we need to address them, we need to look at ourselves honestly and we need to improve upon it because if we’re serious about getting better and being competitive in Ulster and further afield, we need to start cutting out those silly mistakes and make better decisions.”