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Donegal weighed down by Cassidy row

Such was the awkwardness of the moment that even Jeremy Kyle might have been reluctant to engage his own confrontational style of conflict resolution to sort this one out.

As the Donegal manager Jim McGuinness was being interviewed by TG4 anchorman Micheal O Domhnaill just minutes after their second successive league defeat of the 2012 campaign against Laois, Kevin Cassidy stood just a few feet away with his head bowed, staring at his shoelaces and clutching one of the station's microphones which he had been using in his role as an analyst for the previous two hours.

Quite likely it was the closest they had come to being in each other's company since the fateful afternoon last November when a discussion between them lead to Cassidy's departure from the squad after his contribution to Declan Bogue's book 'This Is Our Year'.

It wasn't just an awkward moment for the pair, it was surreal for the viewer too to listen to McGuinness answer questions about Cassidy, whose eyes remained fixed to the ground nearby for the duration of his former manager's presence on the sideline for those couple of minutes.

It couldn't have been planned from a director's chair better.

There had been a gentle tap on the shoulder from McGuinness as he made his way past Cassidy to take up position in the interview area.

But for Donegal supporters, the silence and absence of eye contact between two of the county's main protagonists crystallised the difficulties in trying to put this one behind them, and how it might affect them in the months ahead.

To his credit, McGuinness went ahead and joined the TG4 team for the interview on the sideline after the game. He had to have known Cassidy would be in the vicinity. Surely someone had a quiet word with him to inform him of that at least. But McGuinness went ahead anyway and fulfiled his duties accordingly.

Significantly, McGuinness gave answers to O Domhnaill on the issue of Cassidy's retirement statement on 'Seo Spoirt' on the previous Friday night, having declined to comment to the print media on the same topic.

"That is the end of it, yes," declared Cassidy on the Friday night show when pressed about McGuinness' hint at a softening of the stance at the league launch 11 days earlier.

"The season has started, the lads are back in training. Even for me it would have been very difficult to return and put in the same level of effort."

In response, McGuinness declared that, "we have to move on now. He made his comments and they are what they are. From my point of view we have dealt with the issue."

But can they really move on with bad choreography like there was last Sunday? Can they really have been satisfied with how the issue has been dealt with?

Those same Donegal supporters are now entitled to ask if the whole episode is having an effect on Donegal progress in their second season of the McGuinness project.

Of course, Donegal are missing their two most influential forwards through injury -- Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden -- while Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney are also out of action.

But from five games in 2012, Donegal have yet to win once, having succumbed to University of Ulster Jordanstown, Cavan and Derry in the McKenna Cup and now Down and Laois in the league. That represents a mini crisis, even at this early stage of the season.

Regardless of the teams they have put out for some of those games, regardless of the anger of their manager over player unavailability due to college commitments, this is not the form of a team with ambitions to build on their success from last season.

Even more disconcerting than the result last Sunday was the performance. Donegal lacked bite and never committed to the same manic defence that so much underpinned their 2011 season.

Only 18-year-old Paddy McBrearty, surely the next Declan O'Sullivan in the making, carried any real threat to Laois before the good fortune of two goals took the barren look off the scoreline and gave them some cold comfort.

With the next four games in the National League against Cork, Kerry, Mayo and Dublin, even the prospect of making the semi-final now seems remote.

Murphy and McFadden will make a real difference on their return but the elephant in the room remains the issue of Cassidy and, more than the performance, it was the awkwardness of their brief meeting.

Belfast Telegraph

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