Chrissy McKaigue says he considered retiring from inter-county football with Derry following an Allianz Football League defeat to Galway last year. McKaigue went on to captain Derry to the Ulster title, see his side reach the All-Ireland semi-finals, and win his first PwC All-Star award.
Derry had lost by 11 points at home to Galway in the penultimate round of the 2022 league. The result sent the Tribesmen back to Division 1, and severely dented Derry's chances of promotion.
Thoughts of retirement had first entered McKaigue's mind a year earlier after a sensational Paddy McBrearty score saw Donegal defeat Derry by a point in the Ulster quarter-finals.
'Derry aspirations have to be to win an All-Ireland'
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Chrissy McKaigue reveals he was going to walk away from the Derry squad just weeks before a first championship title in almost a quarter of a century 🏆
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"Do I feel I'll win an All-Ireland? That's a question that goes through my head a lot," the 33-year-old McKaigue told the BBC's The GAA Social podcast.
"To be quite honest with you, the year that Paddy McBrearty scored the last-minute point, I was ready to jack it in that year, irrespective of how that game finished. My body was really struggling. A side product of that was my mind was really struggling too.
"I probably had enough, my heart was broken that many times. You fall into that spiral of, 'Jesus, this is never going to happen' or 'I'm never going to be successful at inter-county level' or 'I'm never going to get the chance to win something meaningful'.
"I don't want to sound disrespectful because I have played in Division one finals, I won a Division Two medal, been fortunate enough to play on Railway Cup winning teams, played international rules, but at that stage, I maybe felt as if I didn't believe that we could go and do it.
"The following year, I got a pep back in my step. I got chatting to Rory, you could see his belief and you go, 'maybe I'm missing something here'.
"That day against Galway in Owenbeg, if somebody had offered me to walk away there and then I probably would have.
"I just thought, 'Here we go again' and it was same old, same old, same old. We had won every game in the league prior to that game. That was a game that was going to decide promotion and we got smashed.
"I remember sitting in the changing rooms after thinking, 'I'm going to see this year out, and that's me gone - 100 per cent'.
"Brendan Rogers travelled up the road with me, and he probably got to the stage where he was like, 'This man is just saying that'.
"Even though the championship preparation, I said I was going to give it my best and do the team thing. I wasn't enjoying it anymore because I'd had enough of it."
His mindset changed following Derry's 11-point victory over the then reigning All-Ireland champions Tyrone in last year's Ulster quarter-final.
"Then Tyrone happened in Omagh," said McKaigue.
"A switch just flicked. That's where belief comes from. People can say you have to believe but when you get over the line against a big hitter, that's when the belief comes in.
"To beat Tyrone and then have that feel-good factor, and then beat Monaghan and Donegal, and then beat Clare. I'd never experienced that before in my inter-county career - consecutive championship wins, massive crowds all the time.
"Yes, there was big qualifier wins and big games in the Ulster Championship, but we had always fallen short.
"It just clicked and now I have serious belief in that bunch and serious belief that we can mix it with the big boys.
"We won Ulster last year. We got to the last four of an All-Ireland. Our aspirations have to be to win an All-Ireland title. It's not as if Derry traditionally haven't been knocking around the pointy end of the competition once they've got their house in order. Last year was another example of that.
"I'd have no problem saying that's our aim, our aspiration, but it's a very different thing fulfilling that aspiration."