All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final: Gaoth Dobhair facing Corofin at 'dark time'

Gweedore's Kevin Cassidy celebrates scoring a goal against Crossmaglen
Kevin Cassidy's goal sealed Gweedore's Ulster semi-final victory against Crossmaglen
AIB All-Ireland Club Football semi-final: Corofin v Gaoth Dobhair
Venue: Carrick-on-Shannon Date: Saturday, 16 February Throw-in: 13:30 GMT
Coverage: Radio commentary on BBC Radio Ulster MW; score updates and match report on BBC Sport website.

Gaoth Dobhair's Kevin Cassidy admits the team will face Corofin at a "dark time" in his community in Saturday's All-Ireland Club Football semi-final.

The Gweedore club remains in mourning after the death of squad member Micheal Roarty and three friends in a tragic road accident last month.

"You hear about these tragedies but until it comes to your own doorstep," says Cassidy, shaking his head.

"It really rocked us. Micheal trained with us the day before the accident."

Roarty died along with Falcarragh men John Harley and Shaun Harkin plus Gortahork native Daniel Scott in the 27 January road accident.

Media playback is not supported on this device

GAA can 'bring light' to grieving families - Cassidy

Huge turnouts at funerals

The tragedy was a devastating blow for entire community in west Donegal as evidenced by the huge turnouts at the desperately sad funerals which followed.

"Micheal was due to be with us the next day training as well," adds a subdued Cassidy.

"It's been a massive blow for our community although obviously the toughest blow is for his parents and his family.

"All we can do is be there for them as a community. Maybe we have an opportunity next weekend to bring a bit of light for an hour or two at least. But it's been a pretty dark time and tough for everyone involved."

It remains to be seen what impact the tragedy will have on the Gaoth Dobhair players.

Doubtless Micheal Roarty's spirit will be invoked in the squad's build-up to the game but the great unknown will be emotional toll that the tragedy has taken on his team-mates.

We all saw the videos that emerged from Kevin Cassidy's own pub detailing the unbridled joy that the Ulster Club Final win over Scotstown brought to the Donegal Gaeltacht town.

Some eight weeks later, the Gweedore community was having to deal with polar opposite emotions.

Gaoth Dobhair manager Mervyn O'Donnell
Brother-in-law manager Mervyn O'Donnell convinced Cassidy to reverse his decision to hang up his boots

'Toxic' club atmosphere before O'Donnell arrival

Amid that trauma, speaking about 'the game', 'Corofin' and Cassidy's own career seemed almost inappropriate this week but like the trooper he is, the former Donegal star spoke well at a media briefing held earlier this week to promote the semi-final.

Probably his most interesting revelation was the "toxic" atmosphere which inhabited the club prior to the arrival of Mervyn O'Donnell in early 2017.

Cassidy himself saw the club's factionalism at close hand when he became the club's player manager in 2014 before stepping down amid some disillusionment.

"Looking back, I was probably a bit young. I was trying to put some things in place that I thought should have been in place.

"It's a tough gig and I'll probably never do it again.

"To be honestly, our club at the time was probably toxic. A lot of people would tell you that. It was hard to get managers. Players didn't commit.

"It was not that anybody disliked each other but just that we had so many involved in the county.

"The county was going so well. We were getting them back too late. The club players then, because the county boys were coming back late, weren't committing as much as they should."

Media playback is not supported on this device

GAA the 'heartbeat of magical Gaoth Dobhair' says veteran Cassidy

By the end of 2016, Cassidy had had enough of all the infighting and had decided to hang up his boots but his brother in law Mervyn O'Donnell then agreed to take on the job that seemingly nobody wanted and one of his first acts was to ask the former All-Star to return to the squad.

"I went to the first game [in 2017] against Kilcar and I watched them.

"We were beaten by a point and I was just thinking, 'could I help in any way?'. Once you are back, it doesn't take you long to get the hunger again."

In his pomp, Cassidy had always been the fulcrum of the Gweedore team at either centre-half back or in midfield.

But given his mid-30s legs and the presence of young talents such as Cian Mulligan, Naoise O Baoill, Dara O Baoill and Michael Carroll in the Gaoth Dobhair squad, O'Donnell earmarked a new full-forward role for Cassidy.

"Once we played our first game, with the engines those young fellows had, they took off and I couldn't stay with them.

"There was only one place for me at that stage. It's something different.

"I feel as if I'm learning something different every day even though I've been playing for 25 years or whatever it is."

Cassidy set to duel with fellow veteran Fitzgerald

Cassidy's stationing at full-forward means he is highly likely to duel with another decorated veteran, Corofin full-back Kieran Fitzgerald in Carrick-on-Shannon.

The pair were together on an All-Stars trip as far back as 2002.

"He's a fantastic player and a fantastic servant for Corofin. We'd be sitting at home on Paddy's Day watching these lads. Kieran is still going, still strong and as good a footballer as ever."

Corofin go into Saturday's semi-final as defending champions and having also outclassed Slaughtneil in the 2015 St Patrick's Day decider.

The holders, who have won the last six Galway titles, defeated Mayo champions Ballintubber 2-10 to 1-9 in the Connacht final - helped by a late goal from 2018 All-Star Ian Burke.

Other key Corofin players include talented youngster Kieran Molloy, Michael Lundy and free-taker Gary Sice plus other Galway players Liam Silke and Michael Farragher.

"There will be nobody left in the parish but we really need them because we are really up against it," adds Cassidy.

"Corofin are probably the best club team in Ireland over the last four or five years. This is our first stint at it so we are going to need all the help we can get."