THE silence on the other end of Kevin Cassidy’s phone was deafening. And the big Gweedore man knew then that as much as he tried to fight it, and as certain as he had been in his retirement proclamation, there was nothing more certain than the fact that he would wear the Donegal jersey again this season.
The context of Jim McGuinness’ phone call to the former Tír Chonaill captain is paramount to the story of the return of Donegal’s hitherto long suffering talisman. Last year, after Donegal were humiliated by Armagh in Crossmaglen, he announced his retirement to the rest of his stricken comrades as the team bus solemnly climbed the hills on the way back to the North West.
Twelve years he had soldiered with Ulster’s big under-achievers and in just a few months time, his wife was expecting twins. Life was about to become too complicated to continue the raggletaggle existence of a Donegal footballer.
Not a week after McGuinness was unveiled as John Joe Doherty’s successor, though, the call came. “I had his number in my phone anyway for different reasons,” explains Cassidy now. “I had been chatting to him about the under 21s (whom McGuinness managed to an All-Ireland final) last year. “When I saw the number come up, I knew rightly what was going to happen. “Without putting on too much pressure, he asked me the situation. “I told him about the family and that the wife had given enough sacrifices. She was there on her own and all the pressure in the family was on her.”
McGuinness responded with silence. Prolonged quiet pauses. No words to muffle Cassidy’s inner doubters. He waited until Cassidy displayed some sign of de-icing his position and then hit his former team-mate with the plan. “He went on about the way he was going to lead this Donegal team and what he was going to do with it. What you see now is exactly the way he described to me on the phone. “When Jim tells you you’re going to be playing in an Ulster final or in Croke Park, it’s not hard to believe him. “The very first night back at training, I knew I had made the right decision.” By June, he was sure of it.
Promotion to Division 1 and a first Ulster title turned his Indian summer into the most successful and satisfying year of his long and colourful intercounty career. On Sunday, he will line out against the Dubs ... a fixture which Cassidy classes as “special”, both in relation to the stature of the fixture as well as the identity of the opposition.
And already, he has been centrally responsible for the ousting of one Leinster giant – Kildare – in Donegal’s most recent championship victory in the All-Ireland quarterfinal, a moment which will fill highlight reels regardless of how the rest of the season unfolds. CLIMACTIC From all of 50 metres, his hail-Mary swing at the ball deep in injury time at the end of extra-time was exactly the calibre of climactic ending the preceding epic had deserved. “In those sort of situations, you don’t get time to think,” Cassidy recollects.
“I was actually shouting for the ball a couple of seconds before it came. I knew time was up. Once I connected ... in situations like that, you know it’s going over. You just know.” As for the Dubs, Cassidy is typically complimentary. He notes the effectiveness of their forwards against Tyrone three weeks back and praises their movement and composure. Yet he is acutely aware that the open prairies they were granted by the Red Hands will be heavily populated with men in green and yellow jerseys next Sunday.
After years of wildly oscillating results, Cassidy makes no apologies for it, insisting that like all ‘new’ teams, necessity is the mother of invention. “You give the Brogans, you give Diarmuid Connolly space and they will rip you apart,” he states. “But Croke Park is a big space and it’s hard to cover every blade of grass and every angle. They’ve looked awesome and they look like a team on a mission this year. “It’s going to be really hard to stop them but we’ll just focus on ourselves and see what we can do on the day. “It’s great to be in the semi-final but it’s also great to be playing against the Dubs in Croke Park. That’s the game you want.
“It’s going to be a full house and an electric atmosphere. “It’s the place you dream of playing when you’re growing up. “But we know it’s going to be tough,” Cassidy adds. “They have probably one of the best forward lines over the last number of years. “We will have to snuff them out. It’s going to be tough.”