Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# ulster finalists
Working in Kevin Cassidy's bar, playing League of Ireland and his hat-trick against Crossmaglen
21-year-old Gweedore midfielder Daire Ó Baoill is hoping to lift an Ulster club title on Sunday.

WORKING IN THE local bar, Teach Mhicí, that’s run by Kevin Cassidy and his family means Daire Ó Baoill doesn’t have to wait long until his “number one critics” assess his latest performance for Gweedore.

AIB Provincial Finals Media Day David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE Gaoth Dobhair and Donegal’s Daire Ó Baoill is pictured at Clanna Gael Fontenoy GAA in Dublin ahead of the AIB GAA Ulster Football Senior Club Championship Final where they face Scotstown on Sunday. David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Fortunately for the 21-year-old midfielder, he scored a hat-trick on his last run out with the Donegal champions in their Ulster semi-final win over Crossmaglen two weeks ago. 

“All the talk is down around the town, I work in Cassidy’s bar myself, so all the aul men in there would be my number one critics,” says Ó Baoill.

“So I’d know all about it then. What I did right and wrong, but it’s all football chat going around, even at mass in the shops, it’s football, football, football.

It’s all a bit of craic with them. They just want the inside gossip. You’d tell one lad one thing and the next something else. Next thing they’re fighting about what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s funny how it works.

“They’d be at all the games, we’d have our buses up and they’d all watch the games, they’d know all of the players for years – most of them would be down watching training. It’s a bit of craic, they know it’s a bit of craic too.

“Like I said, they’re my number one critics, they’d always tell you what you did wrong before what you did right – they wouldn’t give me that sensation. Same with (Gweedore team-mates) Kevin, Niall Friel, Naoise (Ó Baoill) and Dan (McBride).

“Sometimes we just need a break and we’d spend more time out in the pizzeria and the lounge rather than heading back out to the old folks in the bar.”

“I’m prone to scoring maybe a goal or two, but the hat-trick was a bit of a freak game,” he says modestly about the Crossmaglen match. “That could have happened to anyone who saw the space behind.

“It kind of opened up and I was laughing when it was laid out in front of me, nothing but green grass to eat up. Then I just got lucky with the penalty.”

Caoimhon O'Casaide celebrates scoring Declan Roughan / INPHO Kevin Cassidy celebrates his goal against Crossmaglen. Declan Roughan / INPHO / INPHO

A talented soccer player in his youth, Ó Baoill played in the League of Ireland with Finn Harps U19s for three years and captained a home-based Irish U18s side at youths level. He made the breakthrough with the Finn Harps first team in 2016 before he eventually decided to focus on GAA.

“I finished up in the Airtricity with the first team,” he explains. “For the second half of the season I was down in Maynooth University, so the likes of away games down in Wexford and Cork City it was handy to make up quad numbers toward the end.

I knew at the end of the day it would be GAA, that’s why I played as much soccer as I could. Two years ago I remember going from one game playing from Harps, I think we beat Bohemians 3-1, and then I had to line out in championship for Gaoth Dobhair against Termon.

“We lost to Termon in the last group stage game. You’re going from game to game and I just knew the legs wouldn’t be able to do that for much longer.

“The manager I had at Finn Harps, Joe Boyle, he was a Gaelic man too at heart and he understood the decision at the end of the day. He’d still be getting onto me and things like that.”

Stephen Morris with Odhran Mac Niallais Declan Roughan / INPHO Crossmaglen's Stephen Morris with Odhran Mac Niallais of Gweedore. Declan Roughan / INPHO / INPHO

Ó Baoill was also part of an extremely successful underage crop from the Ghaeltacht club that didn’t lose a game between U16 and U21 level. They quickly made an impact at the senior grade and supplemented a side already featuring household names like Cassidy, Neil and Eamon McGee and Odhran MacNiallais. 

Gweedore have come a long way in a short space of time. As recently as two years ago, Cassidy retired in the dressing room following a heavy 12-point beating they shipped in the semi-final to Naomh Conaill.

He returned the following season when Mervyn O’Donnell was appointed as manager. They lost to the same opponents by a point in the 2017 semi-final, before an injection of youth helped them annex a first Dr Maguire Cup since 2006 this year. 

When you were younger, it was all about Kevin Cassidy, Neil McGee and things like that. You were always looking up watching them on tv. They were the big dogs like. When you were younger you wouldn’t really think you’d get the chance to play with them. It’s brilliant going into games with them.

“When they switch on for games, that’s when you switch on too. Watching how they go about things, big crowds, the media and things like that, they know how to go about things so we look up to them for stuff like that and they guide us through.

“Mervyn O’Donnell came in, he came in and he took a job that was very hard to take with Gaoth Dobhair the way they were. He told us starting off, it was going to be a team of honesty, there was going to be no bullshit, between anyone.

Cass kind of liked the idea of that, it took a while for him to come into it but once he found his bearings, listen, as you’ve all seen the last few weeks, the man is hard to touch at the minute with the two feet on him.

“People out there asking me that, we’ve bets at home if he’s left-footed or right-footed like. I think he’s glad now that he’s back, without him we probably wouldn’t be where we are either.

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“It’s mad, it’s just how professional he is. Even his lifestyle at home, he’d have a good routine. He started his own company now, it’s all about the diet for him now at that age group. At training he might not do as much running as us but what he does he’ll do 110% and that’s what all them other boys do.”

Daire O Baoill Tommy Dickson / INPHO Daire Ó Baoill during last summer's Ulster SFC semi-final. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

There’s an interesting contrast in how the older heads and youngsters approach big games.

“That’s what the older boys say, we only know how to go winning. Maybe going into games with cool heads, the older boys maybe do all the nerves for us, all the shaking and thinking.

They can’t get over how laid back, and kind of the craic going up on the bus, and you look up and maybe Cassidy would be sitting up at the front with the headphones on and maybe Neil sitting quietly at the back with the lads. But that’s just the way it is, it’s a nice blend.”

Ó Baoill featured once in the league for Donegal but went on to appear off the bench in five championship matches during the summer. He’s worked with Declan Bonner since his minor days and is hoping for more minutes with the county in 2019. 

“I’ve been with Declan now since minors, (then) U21s and seniors, so he’s been with me the whole time. He’s taken me with him and a few other lads my age too. Every year we go out, we look for bigger and better things. Declan understands how much this club run means to us so he’s kind of letting us play our part in that. 

“I got a lot of game-time (this year), a lot more than I expected for the first season to be in there. When you look at the panel of boys they have there, it’s mad.

It was nice to play with the boys, it was unlucky for Paddy McBrearty, he was injured at half time in the Ulster final. I came on and it was the most time I got. It was a great game to get in to get the nerves settled.”

But Ó Baoill is looking no further than Sunday, where Gweedore are bidding to become the first Donegal side to win the provincial title since St Joseph’s in 1975. 

“It’ll be mad now alright (if we win), but sure otherwise it would be a depression session. But we’re looking forward to it, it would be mad too, Cassidy’s place will be hopping too, half the barmen are footballers. He looks after us alright.

“There was enough pressure put on us in the last 10 or 12 years to get out of the county so once we won the county the burden was lifted off the chest. We’re taking it game by game now, if you talk about the experienced lads, Cassidy and the McGee, it was their first time, so we’re all just taking it game by game and enjoying it as we go on.”

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