Dropping Cassidy may come back to haunt McGuinness

WE were sitting in a café on the Ormeau Road, talking football, when Declan Bogue told me that he was writing a book.

Typically of Declan, it was a fresh concept. He was going to follow the football season of an individual from each of the nine Ulster Counties.

I liked the idea and told him so. I also warned Declan, as gently as I could, to keep his expectations low.

I reckoned it would be a Van Gogh job, lots of hard graft for minimal sales.

The book would have limited appeal beyond the North. Ulster is a small marketplace. In the six counties alone, more than half of the population have no interest in the GAA.

Declan was undeterred. Money wasn’t his motivation. He wanted to write a good sports book. The interviews Declan conducted with the players had energised him. He was already working night and day, and it was a labour of love.

Up until Jim McGuinness expelled Kevin Cassidy from the Donegal squad, my predictions for the sales of the book were spot on.

Only 1,000 copies of the book were in circulation last week. The publishers had also been realistic. The first print was for 5,000 books and batches of 1,000 would be printed according to demand. Before Cassidy was axed, demand wasn’t very high.

But all has changed. Late last week, one of the country’s leading newsagents placed an order for 10,000 copies.

Bogue, an amiable Fermanagh man, has been slightly overwhelmed by the furore that has erupted around him.

Mercifully for Declan, he has missed the explosion of media coverage. He’s been in Rome with his girlfriend, Ciara. It’s payback for the eight weeks when he spent most of his time locked in a room completing This Is Our Year.

As a journalist, Declan Bogue has two great gifts. The first is his laconic Fermanagh lilt. If he was a barman, customers would queue to tell him their problems. Because he puts people at ease, they talk. They open up.

And when they do talk, Bogue’s second asset comes into play — he has an intuitive understanding of what GAA people want to read.

His book is brimful with anecdotes, snippets of gossip, and nuggets about training habits.

Here are a few samples: l Before the start of last season the Monaghan players were informed that they would be expected to be able to run two miles within 11-and-a-half- minutes. At his first attempt on a treadmill, Dick Clerkin clocked a time of 12-and-half minutes.

l Ryan McMenamin is a keen surfer. After Tyrone beat Monaghan in the first round, he escaped to Rossnowlagh in Donegal where he had planned to spend the following day catching waves.

l Former Monaghan trainer Martin McElkennon put the players on a ‘Caveman Diet’. Players could only eat unprocessed foods. Sauces, sugar, and soft drinks were banned. Steamed vegetables and grilled meat were mandatory. International Rules footballer Darren Hughes dropped a stone.

Page after page is sprinkled with juicy morsels. When Tyrone went for a training camp in Limerick, the defenders and forwards had separate sessions. At Donegal training sessions, Jim McGuinness plays seven games that last seven minutes. Players are allowed four minutes of recovery, but the losing team must do 70 press-ups. Lose seven games, and a player will do 490 press-ups.

Anyone who has been following the news that has followed Cassidy’s expulsion will probably have gained a false impression of the book. Yes, the Gweedore man provides a few details about the Donegal camp. But the same can be said about all the other players.

The sadness of the current fallout is that Cassidy’s respect for Jim McGuinness practically seeps from the pages.

“I like to listen to Jim before I go out,” said Cassidy. “That’s when I really enjoy it, focusing on what you’re meant to do. Anybody else would lose the dressing room. Jim could chat for an hour; a straight hour, and not lose anyone’s interest.”

And yet, Jim McGuinness has concluded that Donegal will be better served by not having Kevin Cassidy in the county squad. McGuinness must believe that the ultimate sanction is the only solution. But if Jim reads the book, it will remind him that as a player, he sometimes benefited from a little leniency.

At Tralee IT, Val Andrews dropped him for a Sigerson Cup quarter-final because he had been celebrating Kerry’s All-Ireland victory with Mike Frank Russell, William Kirby and Barry O’Shea. Jim only missed a game. He was back for the semi-final. As things stand, Kevin Cassidy, the player who trained seven days a week, the man who left a wife and baby twins to train with Donegal, has been dumped from the squad and informed that he’s not welcome on the team holiday to Florida.

This is Kevin Cassidy, the All-Star whose brilliant left-footed point ensured that Donegal only trailed Tyrone by two points at half-time in the Ulster semi-final. Big personalities have a tendency to do their own thing. Sometimes they’ll even try to kick a winning point with the outside of their weaker foot in the dying seconds.

Would Donegal have won an Ulster title or reached the All-Ireland semi-final without Kevin Cassidy? Can they improve next year without him? Evidently, McGuinness is willing to take that chance. Others will view the situation differently. With Cassidy stranded in Gweedore, Donegal’s rivals in Ulster will approach the 2012 Championship with the strengthened belief that: ‘This is our year.’

* Contact: p.heaney@irishnews.com

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