Cassidy driving Ederney on to another Fermanagh SFC Final
SURE the machinery does all the work, says Michael Cassidy. Maybe so, but the Ederney manager is definitely the driver in their search for success.
The St Joseph’s club are heading into only their third Fermanagh SFC Final in half a century, but their second inside three seasons – and Cassidy is the common denominator for all those.
Back in 2006 they lost heavily to the last hurrah of the then dominant force in the Erne county, Enniskillen Gaels, beaten by eight points in the decider.
Two years ago, 50 years on from the club’s only senior triumph, there was no fairytale finish as the new big dogs in Fermanagh, Derrygonnelly Harps, raced away to a crushing 12-point victory.
This Sunday, Ederney are the latest obstacle in the path of the purple and yellow behemoth which has pulverised everyone else in winning five consecutive Fermanagh championships and remain resolutely on course for a sixth.
Cassidy is more positive about his club’s chances this weekend, but still realistic: “There’s no doubt about it, we know that Derrygonnelly will be red-hot favourites going into this.
“For most of our players, that last final would have been their first, there’s few that would have been there before.
“It was a very young team – still is a very young team overall – and we maybe took our eye off the ball, played the occasion a wee bit. There were injuries too.
“This time, we’re under no illusions about the task ahead of us, but there seems to be a bit more focus and togetherness.”
The burden of expectation is almost totally on Derrygonnelly, which should help Ederney relax, but the desire for victory is strong there too, points out Cassidy:
“You can say that, but there’s still a pressure within to perform. It’s driven on by everybody, we have a lot of good leaders within the panel, and from the whole club there’s that pressure to perform. We owe that to ourselves.”
Bringing the trophy back for only the second time in the club’s history would be incredible, Cassidy acknowledges:
“Now, it goes without saying what it would mean. It would be great not only for those players but great for the youth in the town and the whole parish. It would be a massive lift. For that group of players, some of them have been knocking about a long time. It has been a very difficult year for a lot of people and it would give the whole place a huge lift.”
1968 won’t be mentioned though, he says: “No, that’s something we don’t really talk about. That’s no disrespect to anyone, but you have to do what’s in your time and not look back.”
Having said that, he’s tired of losing deciders in his second spell in charge. Apart from the Championship of 2018, Ederney also lost last year’s League Final to Derrygonnelly, and the 2017 version to Devenish.
“We’ve been stuck in a final nearly every year – but we haven’t got a trophy.”
They’ll keep going, of course. They have to.
There’s no secret formula, no magic wand that Michael Cassidy waves. “It’s not any one thing. First of all you try to get the people you want around you.
“Then you’re going to get nowhere unless you work hard, keep trying – it’s all about hard work. Nobody gets anything handed to them in life. We try to preach to the players, it’s about hard work.”
When it’s put to him that he knows all about hard work as a farmer, he laughs: “That used to be the way with farming but it’s all machines now.”
Still, he puts the hours in. “You have to. All we can do is hope.”
Ederney have more than hope, though.
They have the evergreen, living legend that is Marty McGrath, still going strong at the age of 39, and the versatile brothers Paul and Declan McCusker, more recent servants in the Fermanagh cause.
“Those three players especially would set the standard in training,” says Cassidy. “Again, we have some good young players coming in behind them, the likes of Mark McAuley, [his son] Sean Cassidy, Ryan Morris, Luke Harron, Jacob Britton, Finbar Gillen, these boys are all very good players – and very good trainers.”
Gillen, unfortunately, seems set to be ruled out with a broken jaw, although, even as Cassidy effectively rules him out of the final, there’s a sneaking sense that his chances of playing are better than his manager lets on:
“I don’t think they’re good now. He’s a good leader, he’ll be a very big miss to us. He’s a ‘Do as I do, not as I say’ sort of player.”
Even with Gillen, it’ll be a shock if they dethrone the Harps, but in this extraordinary year hard work might bring its own reward.