By Shaun Casey
WHAT makes Sleacht Néill so special? If you’re to believe Aoife Ní Chaiside, then there’s not that much really. But we all know different. Over the last decade, the club has emerged as one of the best in the land at football, hurling and camogie.
Under the watchful eye of Mickey Moran, the men in maroon won four Derry Senior Football Championships in a row, three Ulster titles and reached two All-Ireland finals, losing to Corofin (2014) and Dr Croke’s (2016).
The Sleacht Néill hurlers have been the dominant force in Ulster, accounting for the last ten Derry Championships, five of the last seven provincial titles and have competed valiantly in the All-Ireland series.
Landing the big prize on the final day has been a stumbling block for the footballers and hurlers of Sleacht Néill, but not the camogs. During the club’s dominant run, the camogie team won three All-Ireland titles on the trot and reached the 2019 decider as well.
So, there is something special about Sleacht Néill.
“I don’t think there’s anything special to be honest,” remarked Ní Chaiside, who captained the side to their first two historic All-Ireland victories.
“I think it’s just the same as every other club only that you get a bit of luck at times and we got a bit of luck in the hurling, football and the camogie. I think there’s people (in the club) and they set a very high standard, there’s certain people that can get other people to want that as well. It’s not easy to get everybody striving for the same thing.
“There’s just that sense of community and everybody together striving for the same thing, but you get that in every club, people are all striving for the same thing.
“I just think there’s a bit of luck, but some people don’t believe in luck.
“I can’t tell you; I don’t know what’s different from our club to the rest really.
“There’s a whole pile of aspects like the committee, players and management and funds and facilities.”
During those glory years, the players involved in all three teams, the families around the club and the wider community built an unbreakable bond that will stand the test of time.
“We’re talking about the same families involved in all three codes,” said Ní Chaiside, who’s sisters Bróna and Éilís also made up the backbone of that three-in-a-row All-Ireland winning team.
“When we talk about GAA it’s hurling, football and camogie. It’s been great and there’s been new players coming in and players leaving, there’s that rotation but it’s the same families involved.
“There’s the sense of community and then all the celebrating and that has been good too, the hurlers maybe won it at a different time than the camogs and the footballers at all different times, it’s been good with dinner dances and that.”
They’re planning for the future, with dual star Chrissy McKaigue taking on the role of games promotion officer within the club.
“I suppose now they’re looking to the future and how to improve things and take things to the next level or keep things at that level with Chrissy in.
“You have to take different challenges as they come along and look ahead and plan ahead and try things and see how they go.”
Fortunes have dipped in recent years. The hurlers loosened their grip on the Ulster title, with Dunloy taking charge in 2022, while Loughgiel ended the camogie side’s stranglehold on the provincial scene.
Glen have emerged as the top footballing force in Derry, having reached the All-Ireland final last season, so 2023 will be a big year for Sleacht Néill as they hope to get back on top.
As a club, the sky is the limit in terms of where they can go, but Ní Chaiside won’t be piling any undue pressure on herself, she’ll take it all in her stride.
“I think if you set a lot of objectives, you could end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself. I don’t know what the sports psychologists would say about it. Yes, targets and goals, individual goals as well as team goals.
“Back in 2016, we didn’t set out to win an All-Ireland Camogie Club Championship. And then we achieved that and that was brilliant, but we didn’t set out to win it the following year, I’m not that kind of person really.
“It can become overwhelming, and you can be concentrating on all that too much.
“Yes, obviously there’s certain things if there’s high standards, there has to be some sort of goals, but you have to buy into that.
“It’s not to say, if we don’t achieve X, Y, Z, you’ve failed or you’re a failure. I think that can be a very negative thing, so I don’t personally like doing that.”