Kevin Cassidy reveals Gaoth Dobhair pledge to leave nothing behind
KEVIN Cassidy stands in the detached, heightened calm of the Healy Park press box, surveying the chaos beneath. Beautiful chaos. The darkness of the pitch beneath is lit up by the cocoon of green and white.
Breathless, he hovers. The smile keeps breaking on his face like an involuntary spasm. But it’s not a disbelieving demeanour.
The fearlessness that Gaoth Dobhair have carried through Ulster sees them join St Joseph’s (1975) as the only Donegal club to have brought the provincial game’s biggest pot back to the county in the 50 years of its existence.
You could almost make an argument for them pairing with 2003 champions The Loup and 1995 winners Mullaghbawn as the only clubs to have won it on their first go as a unit, but the handful of links back to 2006 are just enough to remove them from that bracket.
Especially when it helped.
In the aftermath of their county final win over Naomh Conaill, the Gaoth Dobhair squad found a moment’s calm to remind themselves that it was a beginning rather than an end.
“I think winning the county was massive for us but the last thing we did before we left Ballybofey was put the trophy in the middle of the room, we huddled around and said ‘listen, we’ve been there before in 2006 when we won it and drank ourselves silly, and we didn’t prepare for Crossmaglen’. We were coming away with what ifs.
“In that changing room, we said enjoy it, but get ready for Cargin and give a good account of ourselves. Once we got over that, we were saying we’re one step away from a final, and then you’re there.
“It’s important not to leave these days behind you and not get into that mindset of thinking ‘they’ve been here, they’re used to it’. It’s a game, there’s two sets of posts, 15v15, and you have to have full belief in yourself. That’s one thing those young lads don’t lack.”
Twelve years since their last county title was a long time, but the context of it having been seven years since they’d emerged from the group stage in Donegal was frightening given their ability.
When Mervyn O’Donnell took over this time two years ago, he could only get two men to help him. Then they started to turn the corner. This year he had no shortage of pickings for a backroom team.
All they asked of themselves was that they left nothing behind.
“We hadn’t got out of the groups the last seven years, but it’s just about being happy with your performance. If you come away and you’ve left everything on the field, there are no ifs or buts. That’s all we’re asked for,” said Cassidy.
“Even coming out here today, the last thing we said was ‘once the final whistle goes, don’t be saying we should’ve done this’ or ‘I wish we’d done that’. They did that today. It’s great when those days work out for you.
“You’re sitting every winter watching the Slaughtneils, Errigal Ciarans, Crossmaglens and these teams and wondering what kind of level they’re at above you.
“This year we got a chance to go toe-to-toe with some of them and, credit to our young lads, we stood up to the challenge.
“I don’t think we were particularly good today if I’m honest, conditions probably didn’t help both teams, but we got out with a one-point win and we’d take that.”
Cassidy’s own contribution at full-forward has been colossal. It’s not always a huge scoring rate – though he hit 2-7 from play across the three games – but in terms of general play, there hasn’t been a more effective forward in the club championships this autumn.
Always alive, always thinking, always timing a run. The stamina might have waned from his Allstar winning days at wing-back but the power in the legs hasn’t disintegrated one bit.
Sunday was, in his own words, his “proudest day” in football. But each door they open is only into new worlds. Next it’s Corofin, the reigning champions and one of the finest footballing teams of all-time.
They’ll meet on February 16. Cassidy will be glad to down tools for a few days now but they’ll not be long until they’re back out in Magheragallon making sure they’re not leaving it behind them.
“We trained last Sunday morning and then boys went home and watched Corofin. A fantastic team without a doubt, they wouldn’t be All-Ireland champions if they weren’t.
“That’s the challenge, that’s where you want to be and if you were to tell us back last January that we’d be one step away from lining out on Paddy’s Day, we’d have taken the hand off you. We’re there now.
“To be honest, the bodies and minds are tired. It’s been a long year, game after game, training after training, video after video. It takes a lot out of you.
“I think we’re all looking forward to a wee bit of a break this week and next week. To be honest, I’ve never had a Christmas like it. It’ll be nice preparing for another one.”