Derry manager Rory Gallagher hails the 'phenomenal' potential of Paul Cassidy
PAUL Cassidy's face could understandably have been red after his exertions to earn him 'man of the match' in Derry's disposal of Tyrone in Saturday night's Dr McKenna Cup Final.
It certainly would have been scarlet had he heard his manager Rory Gallagher's paean of praise to him shortly afterwards.
Gallagher sets high standards, demands much – and then more – from his players. However, he was absolutely gushing about the qualities the Bellaghy lad brings.
Having selected him at midfield rather than his usual wing-forward role, Gallagher explained: "I think he's an unbelievable footballer. I think his potential is phenomenal. His ability, his football brain. When you work with people every day you see moments of brilliance with him.
"I believe Paul can play anywhere. There was a point during the week we were thinking of playing him in another position. We just felt midfield, along with Brendan [Rogers], who's also trying it out.
"From our point of view it was a new experience there. Clearly we'll have Conor [Glass] back in and that will strengthen us in the middle of the field."
Paul Cassidy must be a manager's dream, because he has the right attitude to go with his great ability and versatility.
"I am enjoying it and taking it in my stride," he commented. "I do whatever I am told, it's as easy as that."
Going up against Tyrone big midfielders of Brian Kennedy and Richie Donnelly, with Conn Kilpatrick also around that central area, might have been daunting, but Cassidy has fully merited self-belief:
"I know them boys are far more experienced, but if you're told to do something you have to step up to it."
Going back to that opening paragraph, there were actually few signs that young Cassidy had been overly extended.
We'll not burden him with any heavy comparisons yet, but his languid appearance belies his pace and increasing strength, making him a cert for selection wherever Derry decide to deploy him.
He was one of a Derry dozen who lined out for all four of their McKenna Cup matches, with Gallagher deliberately running a small squad and a strong side as serious preparation for another go at promotion from Division Two.
Cassidy was pleased to have such a packed programme, saying: "I am definitely glad to be back at it. I know it is only January but every bit of football helps.
"The McKenna Cup, compared to all the other cups, is far more competitive. Even for young lads, it is great experience for them as well.
"It is a simply more preparation for the start of the league and it gives us those minutes in a game scenario to prepare for the start of the league and work together as a team when it comes to it.
"If you look at the last few games, they were so competitive and we know how much of a bonus that can be going into the league, but we took it all in our stride."
Despite scoring 3-11 against the Red Hands, 3-4 of that tally into a fierce wind, Derry might have had three more goals before the break, with Cassidy himself poking a half-chance wide of the nets.
"Definitely in the first half we missed a lot of chances, including myself; if we'd taken care of those chances it would have been over at half-time.
"Our running game in the second half just opening them up. We're doing a lot right, we just have to execute that final percentage, of the shots."
He modestly didn't mention his own crucial point, which put Derry back in front after Tyrone had quickly wiped out their six-point half-time lead with a scoring burst early in the second haf.
Derry closed out the McKenna Cup Final with confidence, and insists his county still want more even after last year's success:
"Promotion's probably the number one this year, because we failed at that last year.
"I thought Tyrone would have been more competitive, seeing as we took their Ulster crown off them last year, but we're still doing things right this year, and hopefully that continues into the league.
"Every game, from the start to the end, every game is a must-win for us."
The two defeats Derry suffered last year both came against Galway: a home hammering in round six of Division Two, which ultimately cost the Oak Leafers promotion, and the even more painful loss in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final.
Cassidy says the squad haven't sat down and watched that back collectively yet, but they will, as they seek to step up even further this year:
"That time will come and when it does, we'll see what we have to do right on the training pitch and in the games in the league."