Friday 21 July 2017

Is the Donegal honeymoon over?

Cassidy's future in doubt after breaking 'omerta'

A large crowd gathered in Teach Mhici in Gweedore on Saturday night last for the Donegal launch of 'This Is Our Year', the story of the GAA season through the eyes of 10 prominent players and managers from all nine Ulster counties.

The author, Fermanagh native Declan Bogue, spent considerable time on the road with the 10 individuals, among them Tyrone's Ryan McMenamin, Fermanagh's Barry Owens, Armagh's Steven McDonnell and Cavan's joint managers Val Andrews and Terry Hyland.

They each had a story to tell. Owens was a central figure in the rift that divided Fermanagh, while McMenamin was dropped by Tyrone in a year when Mickey Harte endured extreme personal bereavement.

But the main protagonist is undoubtedly Kevin Cassidy, who topped a redemptive season for Donegal by taking one of the county's three All Stars 12 months after announcing his retirement from the game in the wake of a heavy qualifier defeat to Armagh in Crossmaglen.

Cassidy has a reputation for being forthright in his views and opinions. In essence, he doesn't hold back and that's why he made such engaging company for the author throughout the season.

Even before the book had finished running off the production lines, it had set off a timebomb in Donegal with the criticisms of the previous management team headed by former All-Ireland winner John Joe Doherty, which appeared in an extract in the 'Donegal News'.

Criticising their tactical awareness, Cassidy intimated that the Donegal manager had lost the respect of the players "not as a person but just their belief in his team".

He suggested the management were "old style" and rooted to their success in 1992. It drew a stiff response from one of Doherty's selectors in 2009-10, another former Donegal star Tony Boyle, who himself said they had expected a far better degree of leadership from the senior players. He also pointed out their record in providing top names to help with strength and conditioning and mental preparation.

Cassidy qualified his position in relation to the previous management at the launch by stressing he never set out to disrespect anyone.

"There have been a lot of things in the papers this last couple of days, but before anyone judges it I'd like them to read the book and see that I'm not trying to get at anyone, nor am I trying to disrespect anyone. I spoke to the two boys, John Joe and Tony. Maybe they felt aggrieved at something that appeared in the press, but we discussed it.

"I didn't set out to hurt anyone with this book. It's just an honest account of where I felt Donegal football was and the great strides made to get us to where we're at now."

If Cassidy has quenched one bushfire, however, it seems there are quite a few more ahead of him over the fall-out from his honest contribution to the book. Enough to bring his inter-county career to an end? Some would speculate in Donegal that this may be the case. None of his Donegal colleagues attended last Saturday night's launch. Cassidy had personally invited them all by text but, on Friday night, Jim McGuinness apparently instructed them not to go. It seems McGuinness had no prior knowledge that Cassidy was co-operating with a book and that he would reveal as much as he did.

That went against one of the core principles of McGuinness' management from the outset, the omerta that he sought from the players that whatever went on in their own environment would not reach the public domain.

He has apparently taken a very dim view of the content released. For him, clearly, too much has been said. This led to him asking the Donegal players not to attend at a team meeting on Friday night, to which Cassidy couldn't attend as he was returning from America.

There are conflicting opinions about whether the players were happy to carry out the manager's instruction. Even Cassidy's own Gweedore club-mate Eamonn McGee wasn't present.

Ironically, Cassidy gushes with praise for McGuinness. But while the level of detail is wonderful for the reader, some of what Cassidy does reveal will be discomforting for the management.

For instance Cassidy goes into how they developed a tactic to develop a "nasty" streak before their Ulster championship game with Cavan.

"We weren't bad enough. That's not going out and hitting off the ball, but getting in people's faces. That's what the likes of Ricey (Ryan McMenamin) and them do, get inside people's heads, put people off their game, extra stuff that we weren't doing."

The author relates how Martin McElhinney, one of the Donegal midfielders, asked Cassidy had he ever seen clips of Brian 'Wolverine' Dawkins, an American football safety for the Denver Broncos. Cassidy hadn't but looked him up on YouTube before training one Sunday morning. For him it was the missing piece of the Donegal jigsaw.

"It just jumped out at me that this guy was exactly like half of our team, a lovely lad off the field, but an animal on it.

"I asked Maxi (Curran) to bring the laptop and put it on YouTube. I wondered if there was anything of this that we could tap into because we were too nice... we knew we had to be more ruthless and (Karl) Lacey and (Michael) Murphy asked Jim if we could introduce something like this."

McGuinness isn't implicated in developing the strategy but Cassidy admits for the Tyrone semi-final he himself directed a lot of 'verbals' at Peter Harte, who was their free-taker. That's detail that McGuinness would rather was kept within the confines of the squad and now has Cassidy in the firing line.

McGuinness was in making a presentation about last season to the Donegal County Board at a meeting last night and loose ends were being tied up about a team holiday to Florida at the end of November. He could not be contacted.

But after tightening Donegal as a unit, removing the propensity for creating headlines off the field and cracking down on indiscipline so effectively, this has the potential to cause division for the reigning Ulster champions.

Cassidy was Donegal's hero with that dramatic late point against Kildare in the quarter-final last July. He wears his heart on his sleeve. But in McGuinness' estimation, he has deviated away from the carefully choreographed script.

The omerta has been broken.

Irish Independent

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