By Paddy McIlwaine
Kevin Doyle wore a smile as wide as the famous Lough Neagh that sweeps down to the edge of Toome after Cargin’s extra time and penalties win over Naomh Conaill of Donegal in the first round of the Ulster club championship at Corrigan Park on Sunday past.
As the Blues of Glenties trudged off the Corrigan pitch to the relative silence of their supporters who had been magnificent throughout the game, Corrigan had turned into a sea of Green as the Cargin supporters embraced their heroes as if they had already won Ulster.
The fact that they had got through the first round in Ulster for the first time in a number of years probably added to the elation.
Kevin Doyle has given a life of service to Erin’s Own, both as a player and now the in-house man and brings a wide knowledge of the game to the management team.
I spoke to Kevin after the game and as always, found him accommodating and willing to give his thoughts on Sunday’s game, the performance of his side and how he felt about the semi-final draw against Watty Graham’s, Maghera.
Paddy: A great result on Sunday and the scenes after were wonderful. I saw you being embraced by supporters and friends after the game. Tell me how you felt through what was a very nerve racking game and how you felt at the end?
Kevin Doyle: Believe it or not Paddy I was very calm throughout the game. I always believed in the team’s ability to hold possession well, limit mistakes and wait for the right moments to score, some of our running off the ball and support play was fantastic.
The end of the game was great, a mixture of relief and sheer elation. I was just really happy for this group of players to play close enough to their potential. When you see people after it with tears in their eyes you know it’s something special.
Paddy: You had a long and distinguished career with Cargin and Antrim. How many championships did you win and what years were they?
Kevin Doyle: I won four championships with Cargin in 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2006. Obviously I’d have loved to have won more and probably should have. We let a few slip that we really should have won to be honest, but I was happy enough with the four back then in that era.
Paddy: Can you remember who you played against in those Antrim finals and who beat you in the Ulster games that followed those years. What games stand out in your memory?
Kevin Doyle: we beat St John’s in 95, St Paul’s in 99 (after a replay) and again in 2000 and Lamh Dhearg after extra time in 2006. Mullaghbawn beat us in Ulster in 95 and they went on to win it. In 99 we beat Carrickmore in Casement and we lost out to All Ireland champions Crossmaglen in Clones after a great battle. They went on to win the All Ireland again that year. We didn’t get to play in Ulster in 2000 unfortunately and then in 2006 we got beat by Clontibret in a replay again in Clones after a drawn game in Casement. Conor McManus was just starting to star for them at the time but the stand out game for me was in Casement against Carrickmore. We played them off the pitch that day in a typically physical Ulster club championship game with great respect even to this day between the two sides. A young cub called Conor Gormley marked me that day. It’s fair to say he went on to have an unbelievable career with Carrickmore and Tyrone.
Paddy: You have been involved in the Cargin management now for a number of years, firstly with Damian Cassidy and now with Ronan Devlin and Fabian Muldoon. Cargin won three Antrim championships under Damian but this year under Ronan they have taken it a step further in winning an Ulster opener. What do you think has made the difference and what has Fabian Muldoon brought to the table?
Kevin Doyle: firstly Damian Cassidy was top class and just what Cargin needed in 2018. He brought us to a different level really in every sense on and off the pitch and a different approach and style of play we have kept to this day and worked on and improved on.
Ronan has really stepped up this year. He’s probably as good a young manager as there is anywhere in Ulster at the present time and he’ll not like me saying that as he’s so modest but it’s the way I see it.
Probably the difference is hunger really and how it drives the players on after suffering a defeat to our neighbours Creggan last year. It goes without saying that really got under our skin and we wanted to right a wrong big time.
As for Fabian he’s been excellent from the very first session we had back in February. I saw right away he was a player’s man and every player loved his sessions from the start. He has an infectious enthusiasm for football and strives to get the very best out of everyone. He’s a football man through and through as you’d expect coming from Ballinderry. Very knowledgeable and a deep thinker about every aspect of the game, he’s been absolutely top class and a better fella you couldn’t meet.
Paddy: A number of young players have made the step up to a regular starting place on the Cargin team this year and have performed well. I was impressed by Cahir Donnelly and his coolness in taking a point in the first half and then tucking away his penalty. The management obviously had confidence in him too when they nominated him as a penalty taker. Tell me a wee bit about him and the other youngsters who have stepped up to claim a starting place?
Kevin Doyle: Cahir is a great lad. We were surprised to be honest how well he’s stepped up to senior football considering he’d be a minor if it was still U18. He’s done really well and pops up with vital scores and he’s a serious athlete as are all the young boys on our panel.
We didn’t even have to nominate anyone for penalties as they stepped up themselves and wanted to take them. Cahir said I’ll take one no problem and stuck it in the top corner. It’s great when you’re young players are like that and have no fear.
Sean O’Neill is another young lad but what a player he is, as good as there is about. Then you have Benen Kelly, Eunan Quinn, Conan Johnston, Tom Shivers, Odhran Molloy, Shea Laverty, Paudie McLaughlin and Sean Og Quinn. They are all great lads with a seriously good attitude and a willingness to work and learn. They will be the backbone of Cargin for years to come I’m sure.
Paddy: Watty Graham’s will probably start the semi-final as odds on favourites but that shouldn’t worry you too much. Tell us your thoughts on Glen and what you know about them.
Kevin Doyle: Glen are a really good side and rightly so will start the game as firm favourites. They beat St Eunan’s last year, a team I rate highly and then Scotstown and probably should have beat Kilcoo so we know what we are up against.
We are no strangers to each other and I’m sure come Sunday week we will know everything there is possibly to know about each other. I’d say I’ve been to 6 or 7 of their games in the last couple of years in the Derry championship. I think it’s a matter of getting the match ups right and going from there and executing the game plan we’ll have in place. We are really looking forward to it and it’s another step to where we want to be.
Paddy: having covered Cargin for many years and attended all those Antrim championship finals that they won, the ones they lost and those heart breaking Ulster first round defeats it was great to witness the euphoria after Sundays win over Naomh Conaill. How important was that win to a club like Cargin?
Kevin Doyle: Very important in a way of gaining a bit of respect on the Ulster stage. We were totally disregarded in the media on most fronts and I don’t think anyone bar the Saffron Gael tipped us. I guess you’re trying to inspire the younger generation also and days like Sunday always will do that. We knew Glenties would be tough, as any side that has won three out of the last five Donegal titles and been in six finals on the bounce would be.
We knew we had it in us to beat them and I was fully confident we would. You could see yourself the emotion afterwards and the amount of young and old greeting the team on the pitch was great All the players and children on the pitch too will always remember days like that and shows we are all in this together and long may that continue.
Paddy: I was at Casement Park covering the win over Carrickmore back in 1999 and it was good to see players like Martin McAuley and Martin Logan, who played in that game out on the field after Sunday’s game. It clearly meant a lot to these players. What do you remember of that win in 1999?
Kevin Doyle: Those two men were with me a good bit of my career and I have to say looked after me too a fair bit, both on and off the pitch and remain good friends as are all the team from that era. There is always an unspoken bond with teams like that.
I’ve touched on the Carrickmore game earlier. It was just one of those tough games and something to look back on and say you know what we weren’t too bad a side.
I always remember we came out first and were doing the warm up as Carrickmore came out and Casement erupted.
I turned to Logie and said we will silence that lot today and we did too. We had fellas like Brian McCann playing out of his skin and he was only a young fella of 18.
He was some player for Cargin throughout the years. Dermot McPeake, Blondie Gallagher, Ciaran O’Neill were all fantastic footballers. It was nice to see them all in the new clubhouse on Sunday past to welcome us home and show their appreciation for this Cargin side after a good day at the office.
Paddy: Has there been a venue announced yet for the semi-final meeting with Glen Maghera, I’ve heard Omagh being mentioned. Any thought or preferences on where it should be played?
Kevin Doyle: it’s in Omagh and we are happy enough with Healy Park to be honest.
Paddy: Finally Kevin the Saffron Gael will be there wherever the venue to carry a report and photographs and hoping to see you advance to the final. Good luck to you and the team!