Age is only a number for Kevin Cassidy as Derrygonnelly reach the last four in Ulster
KEVIN Cassidy made his debut for Derrygonnelly as a fresh-faced teenager back in 1993. 24 years on and the inspirational 42-year-old half-forward who played an hour of Saturday night's history-making win over Armagh Harps is still going strong.
Derrygonnelly's three-point victory was the club's first win in Ulster and afterwards Cassidy – whose senior debut came a year after goalkeeper Dermot Feeley first lined out for the side - reflected that it was “long overdue”.
Cassidy has been part of five of Derrygonnelly's six Fermanagh titles - 1995, 2004, 2009, 2016 and 2017. He missed the 2015 success with a cruciate injury and explained that he has worked hard to return to full fitness.
“I thought I'd give it a good go this year,” he said.
“I had cruciate trouble two years ago and last year I was only coming back to it.
“This year I went for it from the start and trained hard - nothing out of the ordinary, just looking after myself off the field and I have a young family that keeps my active.
“I know I have to keep up with the younger boys in the panel so I have to train a bit harder than them to get in shape and stay in shape.”
He added: “I've been blessed with a lack of injuries and I take it year-by-year.
“The main thing is that I'm still enjoying it, that's a big part of it and when the club is successful it makes it easier. You play as long as you can because you're going to be retired even longer and I'll keep going for as long as I last. I'll know when my time's up.”
Saturday night's game began after a minute's silence in memory of Armagh Harps stalwart Bobby Gamble and from the throw-in Derrygonnelly looked sharp in the tackle and quick over the ground. Two goals in the first 10 minutes – a Paul Ward penalty and a Conal Jones screamer after Paddy Morrison had gifted him possession – left the visitors from the Orchard county with a mountain to climb.
“It's a monkey off our backs,” said Cassidy.
“We haven't done ourselves justice in the last two years. The first year against Slaughtneil it was an emotional time for the club after Damian McGovern died just before the county championship final.
“Last year we went up with a different mindset and we ran them close on the day and took a lot of heart from that. This year we wanted to push on again and get that first win in Ulster and, thank God, we got over the line.
“Experience is a valuable when you step into Ulster. It was Armagh Harps' first time in Ulster in 26 years and I thought that wee bit of experience helped us.”
Ultan Lennon hit a Derrygonnelly post early in the second half as Armagh Harps threw everything forward in an attempt to get back into the game. The Fermanagh men made the most of their slice of luck and were able to get scores at crucial times to stay out of reach.
“You ride your luck at times in these games,” said Cassidy.
“We got away with that one and then you try and get up the other end and get a score and keep that gap between us. We had a cushion of between four and six points right through the game but there's always that danger that they'll get a goal – we saw that in the Armagh final (against Maghery) when they got goals out of nothing.
“It would have been on a knife-edge then so we just tried to keep control of the ball and pick off our scores and thankfully we did that in the second half.”
Derrygonnelly manager Martin Greene said the club had targeted an Ulster semi-final appearance at the start of the Championship season. The three in-a-row Fermanagh champions will now face a Cavan Gaels side that made short work of Antrim's Lamh Dhearg for a place in their first ever Ulster final.
“It's uncharted territory for us, the last four in Ulster,” said Cassidy.
“A lot of people had written us off before this game this game and that's a bit of motivation for the next stage. We'll take confidence from this win and we'll go it from the start again.”