GAA Football

St Gall's veterans remain the king decision-makers: Cargin boss Damian Cassidy

Terry O'Neill is one of a number of St Gall's All-Ireland winning team of 2010 that is still cutting it at senior level

ERIN’S Own Cargin boss Damian Cassidy expressed his admiration for the band of St Gall’s veterans ahead of Sunday’s county championship semi-final showdown – and says the defending champions will be wary of the Milltown men’s big-game experience.

Kieran McGourty, Ronan Gallagher, Colin Brady, Terry O’Neill, player/manager Sean Kelly are all over 35 while Kevin Niblock and Aodhan Gallagher have also joined the 30 club.

But it’s exactly that well of experience the Bellaghy man highlights as one of their opponents’ greatest strengths ahead of Sunday's clash at Corrigan Park (5.30pm).

“One thing that St Gall’s have always been very good at is they are very good decision-makers,” said Cassidy.

“That comes down to experience and being really good footballers, where they generally make the right decisions in games.

“If you look at Dublin: are they athletically better than some of the teams they’re playing against? They’re not. But they’ve better decision-makers. It’s such a simple thing to say, but such a difficult thing to have.

That’s the one thing that St Gall’s have had that has stood to them down through the years.”

Cassidy also feels the advances in strength and conditioning has enabled players to play well into their 30s while also retaining the same competitive edge.

“People who are on the periphery of the game don’t fully understand strength and conditioning is now playing a massive part in players being able to play longer.

“For example, I played my last game when I was 35-and-a-half. If the strength and conditioning had been around at that time I’m confident I could have played until I was 38, 39 or 40, I’m absolutely certain of that.”

Cassidy spent eight seasons with Clonoe O’Rahilly’s – in 2008 and again in 2011 to 2017 – and pointed to the club’s full-back Aidan Brady who is still playing at 39.

“Aidan has been an absolute stalwart of a full-back for Clonoe, an outstanding player and is still involved; he’s not starting regularly now but he’s 39.

“Up until he was 38 he was the starting full-back. Conor Gormley and Martin Penrose (both Carrickmore), boys like that, they’re still playing well into their 30s and are still the main men among a group of younger players.

“And there’s a reason for that. Strength and conditioning has been a significant factor in sustaining those fellas’ careers to play at the level they’re playing at. That’s the reason why. And you never lose decision-making under pressure.”

St Gall’s dominated the championship landscape between 2001 and 2014, winning 13 out of 14 domestic titles before Cargin re-established their challenge by claiming wins in 2015, 2016 and 2018 (Lamh Dhearg won the 2017 crown).

St Gall’s seemed to have the game in the bag against the Toome outfit in last season’s semi-final in Creggan, but an incredible goal with the last kick of the game from Tomas McCann gave Cargin a brilliant victory.

While it was a gut-wrenching way to exit last year’s championship, Cassidy doesn’t believe St Gall’s will be motivated by avenging that defeat.

“There’s no doubt somebody will throw that out during a training session but that will not be their raison d’etre coming out to play this game. Things happen in matches. There are other things in matches that can provide much more focus or motivation for players rather than somebody sticking a goal in in the last second. I think the careers of the St Gall’s players are motivated by much higher ideals.”

Now in his second year with the Erin’s Own club, Cassidy has noticed the improving standards of Antrim football since his arrival and having experienced club football in both Derry and Tyrone the 1993 All-Ireland winner feels Antrim’s structures are superior.

“Over the past 24 months things aren’t as straightforward as they were before in Antrim. Lamh Dhearg hit that change button in 2017 and last year’s championship was competitive and indeed this year’s championship to date has maybe gone according to plan, apart from Creggan losing to Lamh Dhearg, although I have to be honest I fancied Lamh Dhearg to beat them on what I’d seen of Lamh Dhearg.

“[Portglenone] Casement’s turned St John’s over [in a quarter-final replay] so that would announce their arrival on the stage.

“So, in truth, there are three or four more teams (competing) compared to just St Gall’s and Cargin a few years ago.

“It has been a far more competitive championship for a long, long time - God knows how long.”

Cassidy, whose Cargin team won this year's Division One title, added: “I have to say the way the Antrim leagues are set up it is easily the best that I’ve been involved in in terms of structure. I was obviously involved with Bellaghy in Derry, Clonoe in Tyrone and now Cargin - that’s the only three teams I’ve been involved in at club level.

“Antrim have got 12 teams and once that initial group breaks away and the bottom group breaks away means all the games are very competitive and you’re well matched.

“It’s very good preparation for the championship and all the county players play in the league. Maybe that might change if Antrim became more competitive [on the inter-county stage]. But pound for pound, Antrim is easily the best league I’ve been involved in in terms of structure and how it’s run.”

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