GAA Football

Cargin boss Damian Cassidy slams Antrim 'boycott' jibes

Damian Cassidy (right) claimed a county title in his first season with Cargin Picture: Seamus Loughran

ERIN’S Own Cargin manager Damian Cassidy has firmly rejected the notion that his players unofficially boycotted the Antrim senior football panel in 2019.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s eagerly awaited county championship semi-final showdown with archrivals St Gall’s at Corrigan Park (5.30pm), Cassidy described the ‘boycott’ jibes he’s heard as “disingenuous”, citing injury to former county captain Kevin O’Boyle and Tomas McCann’s aspirations of returning to the inter-county scene next season as evidence to the contrary.

“I find it very disingenuous whenever I hear some players and supporters making disparaging remarks that Cargin have taken the decision not to get involved in the county en bloc. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Cassidy.

“Kevin O’Boyle is not at the county this year because he has sustained a significant injury that required an operation. Kevin would have been there. In fact, each of the decisions that Cargin players made are on the basis of career or family commitments. It’s just the time of their lives that they’re in.”

Tomas McCann, still one of the top forwards in the county, was a surprise absentee last season – but in an interview with The Irish News last month he explained why he wasn’t involved but didn’t rule out making a return in 2020.

“I’ve four wee girls now – aged 8, 5, 2 and 0 – and I was in the middle of building a house last year,” said the 31-year-old.

Logistically, McCann said it was virtually impossible for him to make some training sessions in Belfast.

“The problem is if I’m working in Belfast, you could obviously stay up [for training]. I know boys if they were working in Belfast and they’re training in Belfast, they’d go and grab a coffee and chill for an hour-and-a-half, whereas I’m thinking, you can’t really have kids and not see them.”

Given that they are county champions suggests a number of Cargin men would push for starting places on the Antrim team, including the likes of John McCarron, while a series of injuries brought the curtain down on James Laverty’s county career.

Cassidy, who claimed a county championship with Cargin in his first season in charge, added: “You have the example of Tomas [McCann] who has been saying there is a chance next year because his circumstances may allow it.

“People always try to create something out of more than there actually is. It’s simply each individual has made a decision that suits them best at this time.”

Feeding the conspiracy theories of an unofficial boycott, members of the Cargin club were dismayed there was no trophy presentation made after they clinched the league title last month, which prompted midfielder Michael McCann to deride the non-appearance of the silverware on social media.

County chairman Ciaran McCavana responded swiftly the following day by apologising for the oversight.

“I was pencilled in to be at Cargin on Thursday night for the opening of their new premises, and I was planning to bring the trophy up, but that was cancelled because there’s one or two wee snagging issues," McCavana explained.

"I’ll hopefully be up in Cargin next week where I will present the Division One trophy to them.

“[But] Mick McCann is right - it should have been there. He has a valid point, he’s a genuine good Gael, a good clubman, a good servant to the county over the years, and you have to take a valid criticism on board.”

On the absence of a trophy presentation at pitch-side last month, Cassidy commented: “I was genuinely shocked about that. We were standing out on the field for three minutes, the game’s over... now, we all know the order of things, nobody’s stupid. Then it goes a wee bit quiet and then everybody is looking at each other...

“It just got uncomfortable and so unnecessary. A simple message before the game: ‘Look, there’s nobody going to be here tonight.’ No big deal, everybody moves on. It was the simple thing to do. It was just the awkwardness of it.”

Cassidy, however, did praise the county chairman for reacting promptly to Cargin’s criticism.

“He did the right thing. He needed to get on top of it quickly. The chairman seems a very genuine, honest fella,” said Cassidy.

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