McKaigue became the first Oak Leaf captain since Henry Downey in 1998 to raise the Anglo Celt Cup when Rory Gallagher's men secured a famous 1-16 to 1-14 extra-time victory over Donegal. The outpouring of emotion that followed the final whistle saw thousands flood on to the St. Tiernach's Park pitch to celebrate. It didn't however stop some pundits questioning the entertainment value on offer but McKaigue said tight, tactical games are an inevitable outcome of the elite level coaching that now exists within the top county set-ups.
“Donegal are tactically unbelievable and have some brilliant players," explained the Slaughtneil back, "People might say that, at times, the game wasn’t easy to watch but when you have teams so well coached and so well tuned in that’s what happens.
"It wasn’t an easy game to play with the level of concentration and focus. One mistake was going to cost us that game so it’s hugely satisfying to know that we’ve definitely arrived at the top table now. Nothing can beat winning a major championship and it’s been long overdue for Derry.
“This is my 13th season - I missed two in Australia - so 15 seasons more or less but it’s not about me or about anybody else, it’s about the collective. The one thing in our changing room is that the collective always comes first. Nobody trumps the team and when you have that type of environment where the team comes first, special things can happen.”
McKaigue had a special word of praise for the supporters who cheered Derry over the line in what was a titanic arm wrestle of a game but stressed it was important that they remain behind the team on days when things don't work out as well as they did on Sunday.
“The supporters were unbelievable and the county needed that lift but as I said in my speech, stick by us now through good days and bad days because when you’re at the peak end of this competition playing against the best teams, which we hope to be doing, you’re going to have the odd day when you’re not going to win," he added,
"You just have to dust yourself down and do it. Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan have been living proof of that in this province. Yes we did well and we’ll enjoy it, but we want to get better. That age profile of that team, we want to kick on and get better and better, and not make this an isolated occurrence.”
Only three years ago McKaigue was lifting the Division Four league title in Croke Park after a 0-20 to 0-16 victory over Leitrim. He has seen good days and bad in the Oak Leaf jersey and admitted there were stages during Sunday's game when it felt like the title was going away from Derry.
“It’s just unbelievable. I just felt during the game that things weren’t going for us and I suppose at the back of your mind you’re thinking about how long this group has been together, this hasn’t been a quick fix project," he explained, "You felt that the desire on the last couple of balls was evident.
"It’s unbelievably satisfying but I suppose part of me would be a wee bit annoyed that we didn’t make it more comfortable in stages. Then again you look at it more logically too and Donegal are just unbelievable warriors and unbelievable champions and just so hard to beat, no matter what way they play.
"It was always going to be a hard Ulster to win and we certainly have done it in a very satisfying way.”