Cassidy sets bar high in quest for glory
SILVERWARE on the sideboard, unbeaten in competition so far this year. Can it get any better for Donegal footballers?
The answer, according to Tir Chonaill captain Kevin Cassidy, is very much in the affirmative because, in his eyes, all that Donegal have done is make an encouraging start to 2010.
The records show that Donegal have won the Dr McKenna Cup for the second successive year, playing five games, winning four, and drawing one. In their Division 2 NFL games against Westmeath and Laois they've taken full points, including a good away win in Mullingar.
But for Cassidy, what matters most is long-term consistency of performance. "Hopefully we'll see it right and give it a good rattle this year," he said.
"There have always been good footballers in Donegal, but maybe they hadn't the consistency in terms of putting the games together back to back.
"That's something we have to change this year. One or two big performances a year is no good to you. You have to really play for the whole year, the whole summer especially."
Cassidy, who notched up his 100th inter-county game in the recent league victory over Laois, speaks from hard-earned experience. Last year Donegal also won the McKenna Cup and had hopes of mounting a strong challenge for the Ulster championship.
Instead, they came a cropper in the first round against Antrim.
To say it was a blow to the esteem of the players and supporters is understating the case, but Donegal regained enough composure to grind their way past Carlow and Clare in the qualifiers.
They then faced a huge test against Derry and came good. Next up was fancied Galway, and again Donegal rose successfully to the challenge.
The All-Ireland quarter-finals against Cork proved a bridge too far, and ended in defeat by 14 points.
Donegal were left to lick their wounds, pondering how that happened at their leisure -- unwelcome leisure.
It took some time, but Cassidy (28) has left the inquests behind at this stage. There is a distinct tone of determination in his voice as he looks ahead, particularly to game number 101 away to Kildare tomorrow.
"I only heard I was due to play my 100th game the week before the Laois match, but while it's nice to make the hundred, we'll all be hoping for a lot more success in the future.
"Everybody's putting in a good effort but it's only early yet. We've had a good McKenna Cup campaign and a good league so far. The real stuff will only start in the summer.
"Without being disrespectful to the lesser teams we've played, we've a tough one this Sunday, but the boys will be up for it," said Cassidy.
The Gaoth Dobhair club man saw the recent League clash between Kildare and Down on television.
That match had a double interest for him, as Donegal play Down in their Ulster championship opener on May 30. Of more immediate concern is the task confronting Donegal against the Lilywhites this weekend.
"I saw Kildare's first game against Down but I think they were caught on the hop a bit.
"They've come on leaps and bounds over the last three or four years since Kieran McGeeney took over.
"Already they're tipped as one of the contenders for the All-Ireland, so we're really up against it. It's a challenge for all the boys and one we'll just get stuck into," he promised. It's hard to believe that Cassidy is one of the older stalwarts of the Donegal side. It seems only yesterday that he was bursting into national recognition with an All Star award in 2002 at the tender age of 21.
He has yet to win an Ulster championship with Donegal and has played in the All-Ireland semi-final twice since then.
In terms of championships, it has been very much a case of so near, so far for Cassidy, but the 2007 National League yielded Tir Chonaill's first title in the GAA's secondary competition.
The wing-back cum midfielder has also played in the International Rules series for his country, so he has been up around the top levels of the game long enough to know what it takes for success.
Nothing would please him more than to see the latest generation of Donegal footballers emulate the stars of the All-Ireland-winning team of 1992, but Cassidy knows that the margins are very thin between victory and defeat.
He is, however, heartened by the younger element in the squad, and that keeps the 'oul lads' like himself on their toes.
Said Cassidy: "It's a good young squad. They're all eager and they're all mad to get a chance, so I suppose when that wee bit of freshness comes in, it's good. When boys like me that are there for a couple of years see these young fellas coming in and doing a good job, it lifts your game as well."
In the context of assessing Donegal's progress from here onwards, how does Cassidy see the outlook?
"People say it's harder to win an Ulster than it is to win an All-Ireland, and you can see why when you look at the likes of Tyrone, Derry, Armagh and ourselves there.
"You can't take anything for granted in Ulster so you just have to take it one game at a time. We were caught last year against Antrim in the first game, so we'll be looking forward to the first championship match against Down and getting stuck in.
"We have them at home, so that's hopefully a bit of an advantage for us. In the league, it would be good for the young lads to get back into Division 1 and play against the top teams.
"In saying that, we know we have to just take it game by game and try and get the boys up to speed and playing at the level they can play at.
"We've two games gone, we've another one this Sunday and before we know it, the league will be over and we'll be looking at the championship," he said.