By Michael McMullan
DERRY’S Paul Cassidy was named Man of the Match in Saturday’s McKenna Cup win over Tyrone but his mind was already looking into the future.
It was Cassidy’s left peg that kicked Derry back in front after Tyrone’s 1-3 salvo tied the game early in the second half on Saturday evening.
Derry were six points clear at the break before being reeled in, but it was Cassidy’s industry – with Brendan Rogers – that provided the platform to give their side a second wind.
Last season, Derry’s promotion bid came off the rails with a draw in Roscommon before Galway beat them in Owenbeg.
Now, with silverware in hand, Cassidy is enthused by what the McKenna Cup offered, but knows the value of next weekend’s visit of Limerick to start the NFL.
“Every game, from the start to the end, every game is a must win for us,” said Cassidy, an ever-present under Gallagher after captaining Bellaghy to Ulster minor glory at St Paul’s four years ago.
“It is a simply more preparation for the start of the league and it gives us those minutes in a game scenario to prepare for the start of the league and work together as a team when it comes to it,” he outlined of what their pre-season run of games brought.
“If you look at the last few games, they were so competitive and we know how much of a bonus that can be going into the league, but we took it all in our stride.”
Derry face into a Division NFL campaign that includes the visit of Dublin to Celtic Park and a trip to Kildare. Promotion would mark progress. There is also the matter of defending their Ulster title.
That’s all for another day and after last season; Cassidy is loving being back on the horse after a 2022 that instilled joy in the Oakleafers’ fans with wins over Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal in a memorable championship odyssey.
“I am definitely glad to be back at it. I know it is only January but every bit of football helps,” he added of getting four games under his belt, one of 12 players to start every game.
“The McKenna Cup, compared to all the other cups, is far more competitive. Even for young lads (in the squad), it is great experience for them as well.”
Derry’s 2022 came to an end in defeat at the hands of Galway at the All-Ireland semi-final stage, a game Cassidy reveals the squad have not collectively sat down to watch yet.
“That time will come and when it does, we’ll see what we have to do right on the training pitch and in the games in the league.
“I am enjoying it and taking it in my stride,” he said of his inter-county career. “I do whatever I am told, it’s as easy as that.”