Derrygonnelly have seven senior Fermanagh championships to their credit.
An unbroken constant through that seam of success which runs back to 1995 is Kevin Cassidy. He had to sit out the 2015 championship with injury, but other than that he’s been an integral member of every Harps side that ever lifted the New York Gold trophy.
A lethal and heavy scoring attacker in his earlier days, he has evolved into more of a play-maker. He has always exhibited a willingness to do whatever was required of him for the team. He’ll be 44 come Sunday’s decider, but Cassidy is a man who never lost his fascination with the game and that is probably one of the reasons which explain his formidable longevity in the game.
“I’ve been playing football for X number of years at this stage and every day is a learning day when you go out on a football field. You’re always picking up something new. You always have to be improving your game and keeping pace with the game’s changing styles.”
Derrygonnelly are reknowned for their core of experienced, hardened campaigners, and Cassidy believes that their openess to the upwelling of young talent coming into the team has been one of the unheralded secrets to the Harps’ success in recent years.
“There’s myself and Decky [Cassidy], Paul Ward and Garvan McGinley in that age bracket. There’s a good bunch there, we’re close together and that helps bring young lads on. Down the years we’ve always had a good mix of young and old in the championship team. We’ve always blended together well.”
That all-for-one mentality was important over a 2019 league season where Derrygonnelly failed to hit the highs of 2018. Back then they had sailed through the year undefeated, this year results had to be dug out and the Canon Maguire Park side only made the top four in the last few weeks of the league programme.
“During the league we had injuries and fellas away overseas and it was a different sort of challenge this year,” said Cassidy. “We have had young fellas coming in there and stepping up to the plate. Jack Love has moved up from junior to senior over the past year there and he’s holding his place, so we’re getting plenty of positives out of the year even though we haven’t had it all our own way.”
One of the main reasons for Derrygonnelly having a tougher time of things this year was the early loss of Paul Ward to injury. The number 11 turned 35 this year, but he remains one of the most potent attackers in the county. More than that he made the Harps attack function as a unit. His absence was always going to be felt, but Cassidy says he didn’t feel any particular pressure to step into Ward’s role.
“Ach no, it’s not something you’re thinking about at the time. Paul’s a man who’d get you four or five points a match and he’d take a few defenders to manage him and watch him. But fellas like Conall Jones have stepped up to the mark. We’ve all had to step up and raise our game in the forward line to get the scores that Paul would usually have got. He was our main man up front and now he’s big part of the team gone.”
But while Ward’s promptings are now absent from the pitch, Cassidy says he’s still making a contribution from the sideline
“He’s taken the disappointment and he’s contributing still to the team, if not on the field then off the field. He’s brought a lot of valuable input to the squad by advising young players, guiding them on making runs. He doing plenty of barking from the sideline too,giving orders and looking for scoring options to be taken when they’re on.”
Derrygonnelly had to ride their luck to make the final and Cassidy says that their near run thing against Belnaleck in the semi-final supplied the Harps with something of a kick in the ass.
“I was sitting watching it and came on for the last eight or ten minutes. It was looking like it just wasn’t going to be our day with all the wides. We hadn’t played Belnaleck before and they were an unknown quantity to us. We had prepared well for them, but it was just the way things were panning out.
“You thought the writing was on the wall at the end of the game when Darragh McBrien stepped up to take that free kick. He had put two over before that and you just thought this is it.
“I suppose we were just glad to get another chance at it. We had a good week of preparation and cut out the mistakes that we had in the first game and thankfully we were just on the right side of the result at the end of it.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call that we needed at the same time too. It made us all realise that you can’t take anything for granted.”
That win over the McMurrough’s means that Derrygonnelly’s bid for a five in a row is still on track. It’s a once in a lifetime chance to make history, but Cassidy insists it hasn’t been a consideration in the Harps camp.
“There’s been no mention of a five in a row. It’s only a distraction. We’re preparing for this final as if it’s our first. You can’t be going into a final and thinking about things like that against a team like Roslea because they will take you down on the day. We’ll be 110 percent focuses on Roslea and I’m sure they’ll be doing just the same.”
As Cassidy points out, it’s a formidable Roslea side which stands between Derrygonnelly and history. The meeting of the two sides who have shared nine of the last ten county titles will make this clash one which will bring in a lot of neutral interest. This is a game which will be in the balance up to the last few minutes.
“We’ve been training well this last week or so. It might be a something for the neutral to look forward to, but it’s different as a player. In the semi-final against Belnaleck we were a kick of a ball away from going out of the championship, so we got a caution that day. I’m sure Roslea were the same against Tempo.
“Over the past four or five years we’ve crossed paths in the championship numerous times. In Fermanagh football it’s all on the day, there’s a kick of a ball or a break of a ball that’s the difference between winning and losing. Both teams will be going at it hard from the start. We’re just looking to be on the right side of the result at the end.”
Posted: 10:17 am September 22, 2019