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Evergreen Cassidy craving even more Harps success

 

Prize guys: Derrygonnelly Harps are eyeing fifth straight county title
Prize guys: Derrygonnelly Harps are eyeing fifth straight county title
Declan Cassidy
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Back in 1995, Kevin Cassidy was one of many fresh-faced youths in the Derrygonnelly Harps side bidding to win their first ever Fermanagh Championship.

The odds were not in their favour. They were facing reigning champions Lisnaskea Emmetts, who were limbering up that day in Irvinestown secure in the knowledge that this was their fifth county final in six years.

As they paraded around the field, they radiated confidence. Midfielder Collie Curran was a Railway Cup regular, Shane King had matched Peter Canavan score for score in a county Championship game that summer, Tommy Maguire at wing-forward had raw pace and Mark O'Donnell at full-forward was as good as anything out there.

They had proper pedigree. Derrygonnelly had been in only one final before, all the way back in the mid-1950s.

But the young Harps carved out an opening for Cassidy to tap to the net on 15 minutes. Another goal, this time from Paul Greene, arrived two minutes later to bring them to a half-time lead of 2-3 to 0-3.

The shock was on and with the dogged, lean figure of Sean Flanagan winning the midfield battle against Curran, they brought the New York Gold Cup back to their club for the first time ever.

Like many of us, 24 years on Flanagan is not as slender as he once was as he stands in his waterproofs as manager alongside assistant Brendan Rasdale.

But Cassidy is still there on the Harps half-forward line. The Harps have been in nine finals since 1995, and Cassidy has played in eight of them.

The one he missed out on was 2015 as he had torn his cruciate ligament. Imagine the drive and the love of your club that at the age of 40 you would spend a year rehabbing a cruciate to come back and play senior football.

The pay-off has been great as the Harps have lorded their county Championship since.

But tomorrow when they face Roslea Shamrocks, complete with the Quigley brothers and Peter McGinnity back as manager, it will be a little different.

Not even an hour had elapsed after they defeated St Joseph's to clinch their fourth crown in a row last year when supporters began to tell Flanagan that the pressure was on to deliver their own 'drive for five'.

There cannot be many 44-year-olds togging out in county finals up and down the country, but Cassidy puts a lot of it down to taking a leaf out of the Ryan Giggs book and the benefits of yoga.

"A man called Jim Fawcett came out from Enniskillen to start a class in Derrygonnelly as part of the Health and Wellbeing Group. He kept it on and it is starting again next week. He takes it off for a couple of months over the summer but it is up and running again," said Cassidy.

"It was probably something I would have wanted to do, but when I did do it, I don't know if it is a mental thing, but it seemed to help keep the legs loose a wee bit over the winter.

"If you do it right, if you listen to what you have to do with the breathing and all of that, it works."

Cassidy has plenty to balance with three children and wife Cathy, but he has also had to keep pace with the multiple developments of the game.

About the only thing that has stayed the same since he made his debut in 1992 is the actual football itself.

"From 1995 to now, there is no comparison. It's still a game of football but there are more individual battles and tactics. Back in 1995, it was just throw the ball in and see if you can get more scores than the other team," he laughed.

"It's all going up a level each year. I think the county thing filters down.

"Nowadays you are more into stats and tactics and you have to move with the times. You have to work out the opposition and their strengths and weaknesses. It becomes more and more detailed each and every season.

"It is getting into county standard and it is probably the good fellas we have in the club that are bringing us to that level."

Modesty forbids Cassidy from saying it, but the example he sets creates the culture within the club. Players simply keep playing until they fall down in a heap. Goalkeeper Dermot 'Peggy' Feely played until he was 42.

The jet-heeled Paul Ward is 35 now, one of the most effective attackers in Fermanagh club football, but this year suffered a horrendous injury when his hamstring ripped completely off the bone and retracted by two centimetres.

And yet he is on the comeback trial.

Assistant manager Rasdale enthused: "Paul Ward could play for our club until he is 40.

"You see those others, the Decky Cassidys, Garvan McGinleys, Neil Gallaghers, there are a group of those guys and they will keep playing.

"They will keep playing, there is no doubt about that. They have a great mentality."

He added: "Kevin Cassidy is one of those players. There is not one club that he plays against that at the end of the game, their supporters and so on, he is so respected in this county.

"He's very highly respected and you see that with all our opponents. Okay, they go at it once the game starts, but you do notice it.

"There are not that many club footballers in Fermanagh that you would see that genuine respect for."

Respect is one thing. Roslea will not care too much. It's the first county final of the year and TG4 are coming to Brewster Park to capture it.

September and October, the most wonderful time of the GAA year.

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