Kildare hurlers the obstacle in Derry's final path
THE half dozen Slaughtneil men on the Derry hurling panel were no sooner in the shower after last Sunday’s snowstorm in Bekan than they were out again to start eating into their mobile phone data.
The need for warmth came secondary to the club’s camogs playing in their fourth All-Ireland club final in a row, and they spent their journey north glued to the action on their phones.
When they arrived home, the players headed straight to the club to console their clubmates.
“The girls are disappointed. I wouldn’t be biased but that free at the end…
“I thought when Louise [Dougan] landed that free but they went down the pitch, and they took their goal well.”
For Sean Cassidy, it wasn’t that untypical a day. His life is completely immersed in the GAA, between club, county and school.
He’s in custody of Gearoid Adams’ old PE teaching job at St Louis’ Ballymena until at least the summer, and for longer he hopes.
Cassidy takes the school hurlers along with Loughgiel native Conor Gillan, and helps out with the football teams alongside Cargin native Gerard McCorley.
The GAA is enjoying a growth spurt in St Louis’, which has facilities the Slaughtneil man raves about. All they need now is a full-sized grass pitch that’s hopefully in the offing, which will save them the runs out to the pitches generously lent by the All Saints club.
That’s the day job and some of the evening too, but on Tuesdays, Thursdays and at weekends, this time of the year is for Derry hurling.
Along with Sé McGuigan, Meehaul McGrath, Cormac O’Doherty, Jerome McGuigan and Séan Ó Casaide, Sean ‘Tad’ as he’s known joined up with Derry shortly after their All-Ireland club semi-final loss to Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Gerald Bradley and Brian Cassidy opted to take a break after the long club season, while the idea of Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers doubling up on their football duties was a non-runner.
Had they those four available, among others, it could be the difference in stepping up the leagues. If Derry were to find a way over the promotion hurdle, Cassidy would see not just the addition but the retention of quality as crucial.
“There’s no point denying it, some of the best hurlers in Derry are good footballers too. Not jumping the gun but if we were ever to get promoted, you could maybe entice a few of those boys to get involved.
“Say the likes of Gerald, if you were playing at that higher level… And that’s not just Slaughtneil men, there’s boys from other clubs that could be maybe enticed to come back in.
“If you want to go up into those leagues, you want to give them a good rattle. Your trainings would have to change.
“There is a brave jump. You can see that from Wicklow and Meath, we were competing well with them the last couple of years and they’ve jumped up to 2A and done fairly well.
“You need to be buying into it, your training, stickwork, everything.
“But we’re focussing on the league we have at the minute. We’ll look no further than 2B.”
Cassidy has been a rock at full-back for club and county in recent seasons and says that this set-up under John McEvoy is not only the best he’s seen with Derry, but that it’s improved even from the Laois native’s first year in charge.
Coaches Johnny McGurk and Brian Delargy remain in situ, and there’s been more focus on strength and conditioning work under Eoin McNicholl, as well as a bigger input from the stats team on match-days.
So much hinged on their opening round clash with Down but despite having not been a unit for all that long, the Oak Leafers had the quality.
They’ve won their three games since but find themselves still needing to win their final game against Kildare tomorrow to make the Division 2B final.
Beyond that, they’re in a very tough Christy Ring group.
Their two away games are against two of the competition favourites, Offaly and Wicklow, although they will be expected to account for Sligo at home in between.
“Us and Wicklow have great history – they’ve nearly been our bogey team the last few years,” says Cassidy.
“We’ve played them in the league final and Christy Ring but haven’t got over the line. Offaly are a good team and showing good form. If we got a good month’s solid training on good pitches, we definitely have a stronger panel this year.
“Offaly’s probably the toughest fixture but it’ll be a good test for the boys to play games at that level.
“Hurling wise, we probably have a stronger panel of hurlers this year. Boys have bought into everything John’s brought to the table.”