DAMIEN CASSIDY says he doesn’t want to ‘feed into the myth’ of the Derry footballers not being able to translate success in the NFL into trophy wins in the championship.
However, he’s not attempting to re-write history, because he readily acknowledges the county has failed to deliver so often on early season form over the past 15 years.
His attitude is it’s history at this stage and he doesn’t want to delve into the performances of past teams (some of which he was associated with as a player). Nevertheless, in his first season in charge, he made it a priority to change the mind set of his players — to convince them they can emulate the achievement of Tyrone and Kerry and be winners in both competitions.
As pleased as he is to have his team competing in Sunday’s Allianz decider against Kerry in Croke Park (4pm), he says the only emphasis they put on the League was ‘to ensure’ they were building towards the championship.
“Certainly, we didn’t set our stall out and put all our hard work in getting towards the final. I suppose it’s a by-product of the players we have. You would have to be satisfied with the progress we made, but we are under no illusion we still have a considerable way to go. We played both Kerry and Tyrone during the campaign and defeated neither. That tells us where we are at. Sunday is an opportunity to see how we are progressing.”’
During his own playing career — he was a member of the All-Ireland-winning team of 1993 — Cassidy says he had no interest in the league. Derry won it in 1992, 94, 95 and 96 — his last year involved — but he didn’t play in any of the winning teams. They were champions again in 2000 and last year’s triumph over Kerry in Parnell Park brought them a sixth title, pushing them into fifth place in the roll of honour with six wins. Remarkably, they have managed only one Ulster title win since their sole Sam Maguire victory.
Last year, they had only three outings in the championship, beating Donegal and then losing to Fermanagh and Monaghan (in the opening round of the qualifiers).
“It has been a trend, something that’s a particular concern to Derry supporters and it has to be addressed,” he says.
“We have got to get performances in the championship that reflect the quality of the players that ‘are about’ Derry football. It is evident from our perspective that NFL success and performances do not lead on through to the championship, but I would like to think that’s something I can try and correct.”
He agrees with Jack O’Connor this will be a different type of game to their third-round contest in Bellaghy, with changes in the playing personnel on both sides and ‘a changed environment.’ Paddy Bradley was missing that day while his brother Eoin was sent off for a tackle ‘that wouldn’t’ earn him dismissal when they play Monaghan in the championship (under the ‘old’ rules).
And, while it would have been perceived in the past that Bradley was central to the team’s ability to win big games, Cassidy says nowadays it’s very much a case of shared responsibility. “If you end up in a game depending on one or two players you are not going to get anywhere semi-finals or All-Ireland finals, it’s not just going to happen,” he stated.
“The way the game has developed, it’s all about having eight or nine players contributing to the scores. You have got to have that in your mind and a template that allows players to buy into it and take those opportunities that come along. That’s something we have been acutely aware of and worked on to try and ‘fix’ that problem.”
Sunday’s game represents a significant challenge in that regard, he agrees, insisting it will be about much more the team putting in a display which confirms progress. “That’s vital but we’re coming down to win, not just to put in a performance and go away with our tails between our legs. It is important we see our players stepping up to the mark and that we know when we are walking away we are on the right road to where we want to go.”
Right now, he places Kerry second in the pecking order behind Tyrone (as champions) and has sufficient regard for his own team’s prospects to include them in the chasing pack.
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