The Slaugtneil defender lifted the Division Three trophy in Croke Park on Saturday after a routine victory over a spirted if outclassed Offaly side but stressed the hard work has only just begun for a Derry team moving in the right direction.
“There was a variety of reasons why we were relegated, and people from Derry know that. Some within our control, some outside our control,” explained the Derry captain, “The reality is we found ourselves in Division Four, but in three years we’re back in Division Two It’s good. The management team is great and I hope they stay for a long time. There’s a lot of talent within the county coming through that I feel will add to it, and these types of things are built long-term but I’ve heard the phrase too many times in my Derry career, ‘Derry are in a phase of development’.
“Every team is in a phase of development but you’ve got to be greedy and you’ve got to be relentless to accelerate development and I feel that’s where Derry are at now. Whatever happens in the championship happens in the championship, but people are starting to see that there are green shoots in Derry and we’re starting to do things right and I don’t think anyone can deny that.”
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McKaigue is now one of the experienced men within Gallagher’s squad and has been about the squad long enough to know the value of plying your trade in the higher divisions.
“If we want to be a competitive force in Ulster football, we need to be playing in Division Two, minimum,” he added, “I’ve played the vast majority of my career in Division One, bits in Two, but we know that if we want to compete with the top teams in Ulster that you’ve got to be plying your trade in the top Division.
“We’re back in Division Two now, an unbelievably competitive Division Two next year, and that was the only incentive this year. All the different narratives in the media and different things, we forgot about that. We’ve got the first thing done, which is massive, and we’re going into the championship now and what happens, happens, but it’s a good feeling going in off the back of promotion.”
Derry are due to play either Down or Donegal on July 11th, a game which Rory Gallagher says he has had his eye on since the Oak Leafers defeated Longford in their opening league game, a statement that brings a wry smile from McKaigue.
“I keep him going about that because I didn’t feel that way!” he smiles, “Rory’s always thinking long term, he’s always thinking ahead. He’s an unbelievably intelligent man and I know he probably was thinking like that but last week was probably one of the most pressurised games I’ve ever played in. Getting beaten in that affects Derry’s future, it’s another year of development, and now development can be accelerated.
“Last week (against Limerick) was massive, it was great to be out here today. When Offaly said they’d play the game it was a no-brainer that we were delighted to play the game, but look, last week was massively important and now attention is towards championship. Like all the draws in Ulster football, it’s an unbelievably hard task, Down or Donegal, but all we can do is take care of our own business and we’ve done that.
“We were very close to Armagh last year, very close. Time will tell (if we have closed the gap). At this level, if you play against the teams in Division One – if we do play Donegal – the margins are so small. From our perspective we’ve got to think long-term but be greedy short-term.”