Cassidy and Co. To Bridge Forty-Three Year Gap!!!
1975, ladies and gentlemen.
It was the year Franco died, the end of the Vietnam War, and a time that our Ma’s and Da’s didn’t dare brave the water at Warrenpoint Beach thanks to a certain Mr. Spielberg.
It was also, the first and last time a team from Donegal captured an Ulster Senior Club Football Championship. Well, officially. There’d be a few men round Ballyshannon and Bundoran who might tell you otherwise, we bet.
St. Joseph’s, an amalgamation of Aodh Ruadh and Realt Na Mara at senior level, came into existence in 1963. By 1977, they had went their separate ways, leaving behind a legacy that to this day has stood as the pinnacle reached by any club in the far North-West.
They were a team who competed and prevailed at the highest echelons of the club game. Having captured the first of their seven county titles in 1965, it is they who defeated St Johns of Antrim in what was dubbed the first ‘unofficial’ Ulster Club Championship Final in 1966. A year later, they repeated the feat against Cross Rangers, before in early ’68, they claimed the an ‘unofficial’ All-Ireland in beating fellow westerners, Dunmore McHale’s of Galway.
It was later that year that the Ulster Council got together and the Ulster Club Championship, as we know it today, came into being. Rather poignantly, the Donegal side were beat in that very first final by Bellaghy, falling again to Clan na Gael of Lurgan in 1973. It came as a relief, perhaps, to win the recognised crown in ’75, overcoming Castleblaney Faughs.
Having mixed it with the great and the good at club level throughout the province for over a decade, the likes of Brian McEniff and Séamus Grenaghan were lost to those halcyon Club Final days after the amalgamation dissolved, and in the intervening years, household county names such as Manus Boyle, Leo McLoone and Michael Murphy have all came up dry at the Ulster Club Final well.
But tomorrow afternoon, half a century on from St. Joseph’s competing in that very first decider, Gaoth Dobhair have the chance to right that particular anomaly. What’s more, and for what it’s worth, at Ball-X, we think they’ll do just that.
If their plundering run through the Donegal Senior Championship failed to put the Gealtacht side on the bookmakers radar, comfortable victories over Cargin, and the highly fancied Crossmaglen, in the provincial series have seen them edge a little further along their seats. Their devastating, flea like forward line, bewildered the South Armagh giants in particular, on the wide open spaces of Healy Park a fortnight ago, and whilst clinical in front of goal, gave little hope to the opposing forward line of breaking through a resolute defence.
The formula for success, is quite simple, it would seem. Mix the Ulster U-21 Club champions with the experience of Neil McGee at full-back and Kevin Cassidy at full-forward (only the five All-Stars between them, of course) add a little hard work and commitment and Mervyn O’Donnell’s side have come up with a sure-fired concoction for success.
If only things were that simple.
In their way, tomorrow, stands the perennial powerhouse of Scotstown. Four times winners of the competition throughout the seventies and eighties, the current crop of players would probably have expected at least one title to call their own, having captured five of the last six Monaghan County titles. And whilst, it’s hardly last chance saloon for the likes of the Hughes brothers or Rory Beggan, and in particular, the precocious Conor McCarthy, Shane Care or Orin Heaphy, you kinda get the feeling that the burden of not having captured the McFerran Cup, is beginning to lumber on one or two.
Tomorrow, could be another day of disappointment for An Bhoth. Despite the undeniable threat of the above names, and, of course the sheer mercuriality of Beggan in general, Gaoth Dobhair, if not letting such a big occasion get to them, should have too much for the Scotstown rearguard.
Key to unlocking the Farney defence will be Cassidy. The man’s sheer presence is enough to cause terror. In fact, his actual on-ball time in the wins over Cargin and Cross was relatively short. The devastation he caused, however, was maximal.
Scotstown, and in particular, Emmet Caulfield, struggled to put the shackles on Colm McGoldrick, last time out against Coleraine, and it was the Derry side’s forwards that looked to have seen them into tomorrow’s finale, before Beggan, stepped up and did his thing in the closing minutes, in the way Beggan does.
Whilst a different proposition than McGoldrick, who Eoghan Rua fed everything through, Cassidy’s experience and sheer physical size could intimidate a back line who looked vulnerable in that semi-final victory. But Cassidy only provides the key. It’s those whippets around him that can go racing through the door. The intricate movement of Cian Mulligan, Naoise Ó Baoill and Michéal Carroll, is fortified by the bulldozing steam trains from midfield that are, hat-trick hero from the Cross game, Dáire Ó Baoill and Odhrán Mac Niallais.
Gaoth Dobhair are simply just too good. We haven’t even mentioned Eamon McGee yet!
The Ball-X Verdict
If the plan was to sneak quietly into an Ulster Final, the Donegal side ballsed it up, in their dismantling of Crossmaglen. A team, as high as 11/1 to claim glory in October, now finds themselves odds on favourites for tomorrow, displacing their opponents, who have held favouritism throughout the tournament.
One thing we need to bear in mind, however, is the tension involved for both sides. With so much at stake, we don’t see it being a rip-roaring, end-to-end classic. And despite feeling that Gaoth Dobhair certainly look to have all the firepower in attack to overrun Scotstown, they still are a very young side who don’t have the competition experience at hand, the way their opponents do.
4/6 is a short price, considering, and for those looking a safer banker to help build accumulators, perhaps taking the 2/5 on offer from Ladbrokes on the game ending either in a draw or a victory of four points or less to either side is advisable.
More value can be drawn from the same outlets ‘Teams to Score a Goal’ market.
Given the shakiness of that Scotstown defence, and the eye that Gaoth Dobhair have shown for goal on their run to the decider, notably eight goals against Realt Na Mara in the Donegal quarter-final and the four against Cross a fortnight ago, we can safely assume that they will be gunning for green flags again tomorrow.
The question is will Scotstown find one of their own. And despite the threat of McCarthy, who bagged a wonderful individual effort against Coleraine, McGee et al. could very well frustrate the Farney side’s front men.
VERDICT: Gaoth Dobhair to win (4/6, offered by most online boomakers)
VALUE: Gaoth Dobhair only team to score a goal (12/5, Ladbrokes / Coral)