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'Excited' about knockout football championship and fears over future of family-run pub during lockdown

Kevin Cassidy talks about the exciting battles that await in the GAA season, and life in lockdown.
Jun 28th 2020, 10:00 AM 34,094 2

Updated Jun 28th 2020, 7:44 PM

FORMER DONEGAL STAR Kevin Cassidy knows the risks of a knockout championship for his county, but he doesn’t care.

CULCAMPS2020_KEVIN_CASSIDY_PHOTO_01 Kevin Cassidy is involved with the Kellogs GAA Cúl camps this year. Source: TG4

We have competitive games to look forward to and that’s the important thing. It’s a scenario we couldn’t envisage back in May. The GAA President John Horan even said at the time that a resumption of any action was unlikely while social distancing remains a priority for battling the spread of Covid-19.

But the curve has been flattened enough to carry out the football and hurling championships this year. That green light has been on for a while now and our sense of optimism was cemented by the release of the fixture plan on Friday.

The hurling championship will retain its qualifier system while for football, it’s back to old school knockout warfare. The traditional one-chance-only saloon.

There is an obvious downside to this format; top teams with All-Ireland ambitions will be facing early exits. The Ulster SFC quarter-final between Donegal and Tyrone is the main example of this. One of these teams will fail to survive the first day of the Covid-19 GAA championship.

“It’s something I think will be exciting,” Cassidy tells The42 when asked for his take on the GAA’s decision to proceed with a knockout football championship in 2020.

“I know there’s a lack of games but we have to do what we have to do with the time-frame we have. It’ll add to the excitement. A one-game knockout, there’ll be some fantastic battles.

I’m just thinking of ourselves and Tyrone to start off, it’s huge. The knockout probably didn’t suit those two teams but both teams will just have to get ready for it. It is going to become a battle between them.

“Mickey Harte will want his players as soon as possible, and Declan Bonner likewise. People just have to be sensible.”

The National Football league ground to a halt in March with Donegal sitting three points behind the leaders Galway on the Division 1 table with two wins from five outings.

All-Ireland champions Dublin needed a late Paul Mannion goal to get the better of Bonner’s side, while Galway were just one-point winners when the sides met earlier in the competition.

Cassidy feels that, under Bonner’s watch, Donegal are closing in on emulating the success of the 2012 All-Ireland-winning outfit.

“If you look at last year’s performances,” he begins, “they were quite positive and there were a number of young guys brought in last year. They’ve another year under their belt and I felt the balance was right.

“After the crux of the All-Ireland team moved on, it was always going to take a wee while to rebuild and get up to the level required. I just felt Donegal were nearly there this year. We’re a step below the Dubs at the minute but we’re well up there with the likes of Kerry, Galway and Mayo.”

The 2019 season was supposed to be Cassidy’s last run out in a Gaoth Dobhair jersey. After becoming the first Donegal club since 1975 to capture the Ulster SFC crown in 2018, Cassidy’s club went through a three-game saga before losing their county crown to Naomh Conaill last year.

kevin-cassidy Kevin Cassidy in action for Gaoth Dobhair. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Cassidy, along with a few other stalwarts, didn’t want to bow out that way and they decided to re-enlist for the 2020 campaign.

The GAA’s decision to play club games before the inter-county takes place has struck a satisfactory note on two counts. It is the safer route to take for accommodating social distancing protocols, and it also answer’s the country’s plea to prioritise the grassroots level of the sport.

“The GAA took the right decision,” says Cassidy about playing club games first.

Had they started back with county championships, I think there would have been uproar so they took the right decision. At the start, I felt it would be hard to run both off. I thought they would maybe have to make a call on it.

“If they were going with club just to leave it with club but they’ve took the decision to run both off. It’s a short time frame.

“Obviously all the lads in the club are buzzing, delighted to be back on the pitch after wondering if we would have anything to look forward to this year. So club and county are both going to be involved. It’s just about getting the balance right.”

Donegal’s roadmap for the football club championships were announced on Friday night, with the county final set to take place in the last weekend of September.

Cassidy was “trying to stay in shape” during the lockdown days when players were only permitted to exercise alone, and knows that he’s not in the condition he would normally be in for this time of year. But then again, nobody is.

Gaoth Dobhair have returned to training with teams now free to gather for sessions in groups of 10, while still observing all the social distancing measures.

Cassidy says some of his team-mates had concerns about going back to collective training, fearing they might contract the virus and potentially infect a vulnerable loved one. 

Those voices were heard and the Gaoth Dobhair team came up with a plan that treated those concerns sensitively. 

“We had our own discussions in our club as to what we were going to do,” Cassidy explains.

But then you have strong enough characters who said ‘I’m not really comfortable because I have someone at home that’s at risk.’ I wouldn’t be giving out to any club that went back or tried to train if they could.

“I think it was up to each panel and the decision we took as a panel was to do your own bit and then gradually we’d go to groups of four.

“We had to respect the wishes of each player and there were a few in our panel who voiced their concerns about going back as a unit.

We had our meeting before we were allowed to go back and everyone was happy to go back and it was going into a lab for training the last night. They had disinfectant for the balls and it’s just such a change.

“The club had everything in place to make sure the players are kept safe and we’re just all trying to do our bit.”

As the lockdown period gradually comes to an end, Cassidy admits that his children don’t want to return to normality. They’ve adjusted to the added quality time spent at home and have no desire to revert to the world’s old ways of rushing and racing.

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The last few months have presented new opportunities for Daddy Cassidy too. He began working with TG4 and Kelloggs GAA Cúl Camps this year, a role which involved him demonstrating skills on camera for kids to practice at home.

The camps themselves will be starting on 20 July with a new TV programme entitled GAA Cúl Camps appearing on TG4 from 29 June to 17 July.

Cassidy has also used the last few months to reacquaint himself with some of the local gems in Gaoth Dobhair. A collection of photos on his Twitter page under the hashtag ‘staycation’ showcases some stunning images of places he only discovered through Covd-19′s intervention.

“Do you know what?” he says, “even speaking to people from different parts of Ireland involved in different industries and jobs, I think we all needed this to be honest. We all needed to step back. Life was becoming too hectic. Everyone had no choice but just to step back and appreciate what’s around you.

“I got to visit places in Gaoth Dobhair that I never even knew before. It’s just having that time to do things. I think this might change people’s outlook on life once we do get back to normal.”

In many ways, it would be lovely to continue with this new and purer version of reality, but our old lives must resume at some stage. 

Cassidy is a teacher by trade but is in the midst of a career break, focusing his time on running an Irish college and a pub at the moment. Teach Mhicí has always been in the family of his wife Sarah, and the pair have been in charge of the bar for the last three years.

They were forced to close both enterprises at the start of lockdown and is looking forward to opening up the doors of Micís again on Monday. The reopening of the college will follow in September.

Source: TG4/YouTube

Like many other business owners, Cassidy did fear for the future of the pub and how Covid-19′s impact on the economy would affect his staff. But just like the GAA’s imminent return, Cassidy is just happy to be back.

“It was going well and it’s the heart of the parish, it’s where all the GAA activity takes place so we missed that side of it,” he says of Micís’ importance to the local community. 

“And then there’s a lot of people who lost their jobs but we’re looking to come back from Monday onwards and just see how we go.

“We were just wondering how this would all work when we open with the social distancing. And people’s outlook, will they be as social as they were? It’s just uncertain times.”

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