Kevin Cassidy braced for massive challenge
By Cian O'Connell
In Gaoth Dobhair after the Donegal and AIB Ulster Championship glory came grief. A first provincial title was celebrated furiously, but in recent weeks perspective has been available everywhere in Donegal.
Gaoth Dobhair panelist Micheál Roarty was one of four young men, who tragically died in a car accident last month.
Kevin Cassidy, who remains an inspirational figure in Gaoth Dobhair, acknowledges how tough a stint it has been. “It rocked the parish because he had played a lot with us,” Cassidy says. “He had trained on the Saturday before the accident with us so it was a big blow.
“It is one thing for his team mates, but for his family it is the biggest thing. All we can do as a parish and as a club is to be there for them, to show them as much support as possible.”
How the GAA community in Donegal assisted carries importance according to Cassidy. “The club really rallied around, not only our club, but neighbouring clubs and everything else,” Cassidy admits.
“It definitely helps the family. Maybe next weekend we have a chance to lighten things up for an hour or two, to bring some sense of happiness back.”
Ultimately, that is what sport is all about and why Cassidy has derived such pleasure from this particular Gaoth Dobhair journey.
In the early part of his career Cassidy won a couple of Donegal Championships, but Gaoth Dobhair were ready to compete on the Ulster stage in 2018.
“Our target was to try to win a county title,” Cassidy states. “Once you have that wrapped up in the past we didn't give a good account of ourselves when we went into Ulster.
“That was the aim, to just be competitive. Once you get past the first game you start to look at the possibilities then. We have a great mix of youth and experience. That is what you need, especially at this time of the year.”
While Cassidy and the McGee brothers supply plenty of experience the emergence of gifted younger players has bolstered the Gaoth Dobhair cause considerably.
“Definitely, we watched these lads come up from 12s, 14s, 16s, minor, 21s, they won everything,” Cassidy remarks.
“It wasn't just one or two of them, there was a core group of seven, eight, nine, 10 quality players. It was massive for us to be sitting there waiting for these boys to come. We knew once they arrived - while it would obviously take a while for them to settle in - that they'd start to mature.”
Mervyn O’Donnell’s calm and assured approach has been rewarded with Cassidy highlighting his role in Goath Dobhair’s march to the top of the Ulster club game.
“I think honestly Mervyn came in and he was the right man to take it,” Cassidy comments. “He is calm and grounded, he is not one for roaring and shouting.
“He just asked you to do stuff, he asked you to be honest. Also he brought the coach Michael Boyle in and he has been massive.
“He takes care of all of the training and off field stuff so it gives Mervyn a chance to step back a bit. For some reason it just fell into place. The people we have in the backroom team just seem to be the right people for it.”
Having assisted in the development of so many promising footballers O’Donnell was ideally placed to stitch the emerging and established Gaoth Dobhair players together.
“I think those young lads have come through a massive underage structure in our club which started maybe 10 years ago,” Cassidy adds.
“People like Tom Beag Gillespie, Brendan Boyle, and Donnchadh MacNiallais and these boys put these plans in place. You see the lads coming through now, great credit has to go to Tom Beag, Brendan, and Donnchadh .
“They created the talent and the likes of Mervyn can nurture them and put them into the senior set-up. It has just worked out great for us.”
Now Gaoth Dobhair are set to examine themselves against standard bearers Corofin with Cassidy relishing Saturday’s Avantcard Pairc Sean MacDiarmada assignment.
“We normally, at this time of the year, are sitting watching on wondering how good they are,” Cassidy says.
“In my opinion they are the best team in the country, they have been for the last four or five years. It is a massive challenge for us, one that is going to be really hard to get over. It is good to be at that stage and to test yourself against them.
“It is all about not leaving it behind you on the day, not so much about winning or losing. It is about walking away at the end of the day saying you did your best and you can't do anymore. If that isn't good enough for the win then so be it. You don't want to walk away thinking what if or I could or should have done more.”
Composure has been demonstrated throughout the campaign by Gaoth Dobhair. Is that the chief reason why an Ulster triumph was secured? “I think that built game on game,” Cassidy responds about Gaoth Dobhair’s character.
“We grew in confidence through the County Championship and then in Ulster then. In key moments you have to get the right people on the ball, make the right decisions. Luckily it worked out for us. We are now going in against the best of all, so it is going to be a massive challenge. It is one we are looking forward to.”