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Slaughtneil are hoping to honour late Cassidy by clinching the All-Ireland title

Slaughtneil v Sarsfields, All-Ireland Senior Club Camogie Final: Croke Park, Sunday, 3.15pm

By Declan Bogue

For Damian 'Cob' McEldowney, getting on board the Slaughtneil success express began with a short phonecall.

And the journey has taken him all the way to an All-Ireland final against Sarsfields of Galway tomorrow (Croke Park, 3.15pm).

Thomas Cassidy - the man who raised a generation of hurlers and camogs in Slaughtneil - was in failing health. He was managing the Slaughtneil camogs along with Dominic McKinley, but he knew they needed help.

Previously, McEldowney had been invited along as a selector for Slaughtneil camogs by PJ O'Mullan - the same PJ that managed Loughgiel to the All-Ireland crown.

This time, he could get up close to observe another Loughgiel All-Ireland winner, current Antrim hurling co-manager Dominic McKinley.

But as their success grew, Cassidy's health deteriorated. His three daughters, team captain Aoife, Bronagh and Eilís, remained the driving force as the Emmetts collected another Derry Championship and set their sights on an Ulster title.

Ulster camogie being a small world, it was Loughgiel they were paired against, the camogie being a curtain raiser for the hurling final between the same clubs.

The week before the decider, Thomas passed away peacefully. His three daughters, and his sons, never missed training.

"When we won Ulster, he was the first thing I thought of. Thomas… he should be here to see it," recalled McEldowney.

"But the strength of his girls stood by the team. To play the Ulster final three days after the funeral was a big ask. The other girls saw how strong they are, what they did and they didn't shy away from anything. I think that has a lot to do with getting us to an All-Ireland final."

The first final ended in a draw. A crowd of over 5,000 then went along to the replay in Maghera, most certainly a record attendance for a standalone camogie match in Ulster. Slaughtneil triumphed.

Thomas Cassidy's hallmark was all over the victory, but so too was McEldowney's and McKinley's.

The 34-year-old joiner has now retired from playing, but is delighted to have just been considered for management in the first place.

"How could you say no to him?" he said of the initial approach from O'Mullan.

"Now with Dominic as well, who has won an All-Ireland medal and is over Antrim this year again… What you learn from those men is serious."

Ask midfielder Louise Dougan about the management and the response is glowing and underpinned with the deep respect Slaughtneil club people have for each other.

"Some people just have it. Dominic and Cob just have it," she said.

"They just get on, they know what to do. They have it every way.

"They have been through what we have been through and maybe it (Thomas Cassidy's passing) hurt them more as men.

"They can't go and express their feelings like we can. But we all know that and we all try to keep each other right. As much as they are keeping us right, we are trying to keep them right at the same time.

"Probably this camogie season has been the best thing for the whole lot of us and we have needed it. It is still going on, still keeping us at it. It's what Thomas would have wanted."

Slaughtneil have kept going over the winter. At the end of January, they overturned the fancied Burgess Duharra of Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final played in Inniskeen.

Looking forward to another All-Ireland final, they can be held up as the perfect example of the 'One Club' model that the GAA have pushed, to marry up the hurling, football and camogie strands of all clubs.

McEldowney noted: "We are one club now.

"The club has said that anything the footballers got when they got to an All-Ireland final two years ago, the girls will get. It is only natural that everybody is treated equal.

"We get our slot at the pitch when we need their pitch. If we have to go to a friendly match we have coaches and meals sorted.

"There is no difference between them."

Belfast Telegraph

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