Cargin’s, Damian Cassidy…..
By Brendan McTaggart
Cargin manager Damian Cassidy is a man who needs little introduction to most people. Five Derry Championships and one Ulster Club as a player with Bellaghy in a medal ridden club career along with a Celtic Cross from 1993 and playing a major role in Derry’s success in lifting Sam Maguire. As a manager, he remains the last manager to guide Bellaghy to a Derry championship, that coming in 2005 before crossing the Sperrins into Tyrone and having more success with Clonoe O’Rahilly’s, lifting the championship crown in ’08 and ‘13 before taking the reins at Cargin for the 2018 season. Final defeat with Bellaghy came in ’04 and ’07 and an Ulster Club decider defeat to St Galls in ’05 while a loss to Coalisland in 2011 as the O’Rahilly’s boss, in his own words are: “Hard to forget about” but in a way, they’ve shaped the manager he has become today.
His first season at the helm of the Erins Own men sees the Toome side return to the county decider and while they haven’t been ripping up the trees during the league, as Cassidy told us, Cargin’s 2018 league campaign should be put into perspective: “If you were in Tyrone and you finished sixth or seventh in the league you would still be in with a reasonable chance of winning the championship. It seems to be slightly different in Antrim and the commentary is different with the senior league where if you’re lying third, like where we are, its viewed as not having a good campaign. I personally think that to have been down five and up to seven players in some league games, we have turned in a very decent campaign on the back of having a panel decimated.
“The upside off course is there’s been a lot of younger players introduced and gained invaluable experience. That’s massively important for Cargin never mind the short term. To have fresh players coming into a team can rejuvenate the older players at the same time.
“I certainly think we had a few results you wouldn’t be caring about but at the same time in the overall context of the season with the panel being stretched to it’s limits it’s been a decent campaign.”
Fixture scheduling has been a hot topic within the county all season. Everyone has there own opinion but the Cargin manager told us they made the most of the situation they were presented with: “The only criticism I would have of the league would be the lack of real fixtures coming into the championship but that’s out of our control. We played St Galls in the last league game and there was a significant break until the championship. I found that unusual from the experiences I’ve had previously and it meant having to go and try to get friendlies but fortunately we had agreed to change the date of the O’Cahan Cup Final with Creggan to two weeks before the Lamh Dhearg and that was fortunate enough in terms of timing to have a meaningful game coming into the championship.”
The Bellaghy native told us their focus from day one was always on the championship and the business end of the season but more impressively, the want for improvements and development within the squad has been initially player driven as Cassidy told us: “Leagues are good to win and I’m not showing any disrespect to the league and I wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity to win the league if it was there to do it.
“We sat down with the players at the start of the season and they identified the areas of development that had to occur within the team. It did require a bit of a shift and I’m not saying we’re in a position where we’re completely happy with what we’re doing. I don’t think you ever are. It’s taking time but particularly over the last eight to 10 weeks that progress has started to happen at a rate that you would want it to.
“If you are used to doing a particular thing with a ball, it takes practice and repetition to get players to realise the change when it matters and the league provided that opportunity.”
The injury list within the Cargin camp has shown little signs of improving but Cassidy went on to say they have played a positive role within his squad and aided development both physically and mentally amongst the Erins Own players: “When we came in to the championship against Lamh Dhearg, we were missing Gerard McCann, John Carron, Kieran Close and Marty Kane. None of these players have had significant game time. Kieran’s just been coming back from an injury and has still been struggling. He missed the last game over the head of it.
“The injuries are still there but not at the same level as they were. They are still a major factor but we’ve become accustomed to it and I suppose that’s one of the aspects the league has developed for us. We’re used to going into games missing four and five players in a match and it’s nothing new. We’ve come to terms with it and the panel have shown tremendous resolve and resilience to absorb those injuries. There aren’t many panels could deal with losing the quality of players we had missing going into the Lamh Dhearg game and the replay game. Boys that have a reputation for delivering in big games and it speaks volumes for the panel that they’ve taken this on the chin and dealt with it.”
The Championship run….
Three championship matches in as many weeks would have plenty of managers baulking at the thought but Cassidy told us they welcomed the replayed fixture with Lamh Dhearg: “The extra game with Lamh Dhearg, there is no doubt, it’s been beneficial to us. It’s allowed us to bed more things in to our game and within the team. Without that extra game I don’t think we would have beaten St Galls. We just didn’t have enough football miles behind us at the right time of the year. The way the championship has gone has been to our advantage. They’ve all been tough games and they’ve really tested us.
“It’s developed a resolve within the team. These players decide when it’s over. Having that type of quality and self-belief to play to the final whistle is a great quality to have within a team. We know that in a game that goes to the wire in the last three or four minutes, we know we can deliver. It’s a very strong mental place to be in.
“There was no madness about it. There was no hoofing the ball or doing stupid things. We were still pressing looking the ball and stuck fairly closely to what we were wanting to do and dug out those opportunities. Further evidence that the players were using their football intelligence and decision making to their benefit under a pressure situation.”
Cassidy on Creggan….
A meeting with Creggan and a chance to get their hands on the crown they relinquished in 2017 lays ahead for Cassidy’s men. The Cargin manager gave us his assessment of their final opponents: “They’ve progressed this season and have been on a steady upward curve from a couple of years ago. This year they decided to give the league a real big push and that’s been important for them. We met them in the O’Cahan Cup Final and look, it’s a subsidiary competition. I’m certainly not getting too vexed about that. I’ve played in quite a few of those in Derry and I can tell you I haven’t lost too many nights sleep over them but it was a useful game for us. We played the game with a shoestring squad and they conjured up two good goal opportunities which proved to be the difference but if you were to sit down and watch the game again, there wasn’t much between the sides.
“They’re there on merit but I don’t think they’ve had the toughest of draws to get to a championship final to be truthful about it. Ultimately like everything else, there comes a time when you meet your maker and Cargin’s going to be the team that will be the acid test for them. We know what we’ve got in the box and the attitude and mentality to respond to adversity and that’s going to be Creggan’s test.”
Cassidy is no stranger to club rivalries. There is little love lost between his native Bellaghy and Lavey and while the Cargin manager acknowledged the uniqueness of the situation and everything that comes with a derby final, he told us his players remain 100% focussed: “There’s no question about that and it brings a unique ingredient to the game with an almost carnival atmosphere to the game from both communities. It’s part of the GAA, the craic and the fun and slagging that comes along with it but it’s all good-hearted stuff. The real serious stuff begins when the ball’s thrown in on Sunday. It’s about footballers making smart decisions on the ball and that will win the game on Sunday.”