Donohoe enjoying Castlerahan revival
By Cian O’Connell
In sport timing is everything. Castlerahan’s story is about perseverance, finding ways to respond following a setback. So Brian Donohoe knew that possibilities existed when becoming manager for the 2022 campaign.
Having dropped into the intermediate ranks Castlerahan wanted to summon an instant response. Donohoe has helped Castlerahan regained senior status in Cavan, while an AIB Ulster Club Intermediate campaign is underway.
Sunday’s match against Corduff will be worth monitoring. For Castlerahan, though, to find a way back, that is simply part of their DNA. Cavan senior decider defeats were suffered in 2011, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Glory was subsequently attained in 2018 and 2019 to illustrate Castlerahan’s resilience. Top flight status in Cavan was lost briefly at the end of 2021. “There is no doubt that it certainly was an aberration for a side as strong and experienced as Castlerahan to drop to the intermediate grade,” Donohoe says.
“We didn't feel sorry for ourselves last winter and spring. We got to work. We set our goals out from day dot, thankfully things are going well so far. We came through Cavan and are really enjoying the Ulster journey, we are up and running. So things are good.”
Arriving as a new manager there was signs of potential, but pain too. “I think the key word is the challenge and secondly for me as a fresh manager coming in it was a huge opportunity,” Donohoe responds.
“It was a challenge and an opportunity, but there is no doubt that spirits were low. We had to give the thing a big lift. I got a local legend involved, John Clarke, he has been a huge fillip with his knowledge of the local players. He was a long serving, totemic midfielder.
“So to have him on board, I was delighted. To complete the trio I have my brother-in-law Mark Smith, who has been a huge asset too. We got to work, we set out our plans. We got to work with the gym over the winter, then we rolled on the operation for the league.
“It has just been incremental steps, you cannot feel sorry for yourself - the fact that you got demoted. You have to go at it again. That is football, you have to roll week after week.”
A former Cavan panellist, Donohoe has been involved with a number of teams at various levels, including a particularly successful stint with Ballinagh. Being adaptable is critical. “I would see every day as a learning day,” he says. “I'm very keen to try out new strategies, new approaches. I guess I learn a lot from players too.
“My boys here in Castlerahan are very, very experienced. The things that they do very well in our attack and defence, you build on them. You don't come in to change things overnight, you don't upset the applecart either because they have long, settled structures of play.
“My challenge was to try to tweak that, to try to bring them on a level, to develop their game both individually and collectively.
“Thankfully I've had a huge response from them. I've had a great response, the training is fantastic, they are great to attend. They are making sacrifices with huge commitment so hopefully we can keep rolling.”
Being a manager carries significant responsibility, but Donohoe relishes the coaching aspect of the role. “I love being out involved on the pitch with players,” Donohoe says. “That is a good strength of mine hopefully, that I can ask probing questions to bring players on. As a triumvirate you have to manage, you have to lead, and coach. That is night after night.
“You have to try to keep open communication lines with your players. You try to give them good feedback and good tips on what is working well and what is not.
“What is important is trying to drive the thing on, just bringing improvement. There is a great energy and great trust in our group. We are in a good place, we are really looking forward to the next challenge against Corduff on Sunday.”
An interesting Ulster Championship is unfolding. Momentum is being generated by clubs with a provincial final spot a considerable prize.
“We had Devenish in our quarter final,” Donohoe states. “Similar to ourselves they found themselves in an intermediate championship, they came through strongly in Fermanagh. We had an excellent game against them a fortnight ago in Ederney, who were fantastic hosts.
“They had a lot of pace, they had a good mix of youth with strength and size. So it was a great game, 13-10. It was in the melting pot right until the last eight or nine minutes when we stretched on a little bit to kick for home. I think it was a challenge that will do us the power of good.”
For Donohoe the fact that a meaningful bond has been forged between him and Castlerahan offers a source of optimism.
Having such a connection matters. “I think that is true,” Donohoe responds.
“I certainly had my eye on them over the last five, six or seven years looking at their consistency and the quality of the individuals that they have. I suppose how resilient that they have been, how determined and how close they are as a group.
“I'd like to think that I have built on those traits, that I have brought them on a little step or two. We are delighted to be back senior, we are looking forward to 2023, but this Ulster adventure is great.
“It was our first Ulster club victory from the intermediate in '01 and the seniors in '18 and '19 this was a first victory which gave us a good confidence boost. So it is full steam ahead for Corduff on Sunday.”