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Cassidy set to fire Red Hands into Ulster final

 

Flying high: Michael Cassidy is fired up to face Donegal
Flying high: Michael Cassidy is fired up to face Donegal
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Michael Cassidy may have had to exercise patience in his bid to wear the famous red and white jersey of Tyrone on a more regular basis, but the Ardboe man is now determined to become a fixture in Mickey Harte's line-up.

It was in the closing stages of the Allianz League that Cassidy sprang to prominence, and when he carried his imposing form into the Ulster Championship qualifier against Derry, he provided further evidence that he can become an integral part of the fabric of the side.

The expectation now is that Cassidy will get a further opportunity to copper-fasten his residency in the side against Donegal in their Ulster semi-final, and this inviting prospect is viewed as a welcome challenge by the player himself.

"I remember getting a chance to sample action in the Dr McKenna Cup a few years ago and since then I have been very keen to become a regular in the team," explains Cassidy.

"Thankfully I seem to be getting my chance now and hopefully I can keep going. I did not get an opportunity early in the recent league, but when Mickey Harte gave me the nod I knew I had to grab the chance because there are so many players competing for so few places."

Cassidy was particularly outstanding in the last game of the league against Galway before going on to serve up another five-star performance against Derry in the Championship - displays that have kept him very much on his manager's radar.

"You just have to take each game as it comes because you don't know if you will get a chance the next day," reflects Cassidy.

"Having said that, to start against Donegal in the Ulster semi-final on Saturday would be a big occasion for me. There is a lot of quality in this Tyrone squad with everyone chomping at the bit for starting places.

"It's always a privilege to be handed a starting jersey because I have waited quite a while for this. It's tremendous for me to be playing alongside the likes of Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly and the other guys. It's a dream for me to tell you the truth.

"This is my third season in the squad and I have had to be patient, but I always hoped to break through."

Reigning Ulster champions Donegal are expected to test the Red Hands to the full on Saturday. They have already carved out a clinical Championship victory over Fermanagh and manager Declan Bonner has assembled a side that includes the fit-again Patrick McBrearty.

Along with Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn, Ryan McHugh, Leo McLoone and Paddy McGrath, McBrearty, outstanding against Fermanagh, helps to lend a considerable raft of experience to the side.

In tandem with this, Bonner's faith in players such as Jamie Brennan, Michael Langan, Ciaran Thompson, Niall O'Donnell and Daire O Baoill has already been adequately repaid, although there is a lot more to come from this gifted posse.

Brennan landed four points against Fermanagh, while Thompson is more than capable of taking scores from distance.

Niall O'Donnell replaced McLoone in the second-half against the Erne side and could be rewarded with a starting place on Saturday, while Michael Langan is maturing into a forward of rare quality.

Manager Bonner is likely to leave his defence unchanged given the efficient way in which they shackled the Fermanagh attack. Rory Gallagher's side were forced to rely on scores from frees to keep them in contention, while Donegal in contrast were able to hit the target from long range, especially through Brennan, Thompson and Murphy.

Indeed, Donegal's current mix of old and new faces and their obvious desire to land back-to-back titles are the main reasons why Tyrone are primed for what they see as their biggest test of the year to date.

"Obviously Donegal are the reigning champions, and they showed against Fermanagh that they can be patient in chiselling out a victory when the need arises," points out Cassidy.

"From our perspective, the challenge will be to build on our recent form. There is a place in the Ulster final at stake and we would like to progress that far, so it's up to us to deliver the best performance we can in Cavan on Saturday."

Tyrone vs Donegal

Ulster SFC Semi-Final

Kingspan Breffni, Saturday, 5.00pm

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