By Michael McMullan
SLEACHT Néill hurling boss Michael McShane’s thinking outside the box has given former defender Karl McKaigue a new lease of life in an attacking role.
The Emmet’s take on Kevin Lynch’s on Sunday (Owenbeg 4pm) as they bid for an 11th senior title in a fifth consecutive final meeting of the big two.
McKaigue hit 0-2 in Sleacht Néill’s comfortable win over Swatragh on Sunday and McShane explained his thinking behind the change of direction.
“We were trying to think outside the box,” McShane told Gaelic Life.
“Sometimes when you have been working with a group of players for so long, you can have ideas in your head that are very boxed in.”
“I always try to think outside the box. I could still put Karl into the defence and he’d be an excellent man marker.”
McShane, now in his ninth season in charge, felt McKaigue’s power, pace and sharpness in defence would easily see him slot into an attack.
“In shooting drills over the years, even though he was our man marker, he was the most efficient,” McShane added, also pointing to the emergence of newcomer Ruairí Ó Mianáin to their defensive mix.
McKaigue’s tackling is also a plus in attack where McShane wants his forwards to also be the first line of defence and put the opposition on the back foot at source.
“It comes as second nature to Karl to do that and so far, it has worked,” McShane added.
“Karl has been 10 years in the defence and been our chief man marker and all of a sudden, we are looking him to hit 2-6 to 2-7. He has done wonderfully well; he is a great outlet with Peter (McCullagh) up there.
“Shea Cassidy came in there today (Sunday). He played in a reserve game yesterday and hit 4-9, 4-8 from play, so he is on fire after having an injury for most of the season.
“We have a lot of options and I wouldn’t be scared, if we needed to, to put Karl back in the defence.”
McKaigue, Gerald Bradley and Brendan Rogers were the only players on show on Sunday from their 2013 final win at the start of their recent monopoly of the Fr Collins Cup.
McShane’s constant blooding of players has been a major factor in their consistency at the top table.
He handed Shea Cassidy his debut in a county final after only telling him at the pre-game meal.
A 17-year-old Shane McGuigan was dropped into his first outing in an Ulster final defeat at the hands of Cushendall when he was asked to pick up Neil McManus.
“The way I look at it, if they are good enough then they are old enough,” McShane said on his policy around youth.
“I don’t look at birth certificates to see if they can play. If they can do it in training against the players in their own team, then they can do it against anybody because the group of players we have are exceptionally talented.
“In training, if they are showing then I am happy to put them into a game.”