By Frank Craig
Declan Bogue never intended to ruffle any feathers.
His idea, to write a book chronicling some of Ulster’s biggest footballing personalities going about their business was, at the time, as innovative as it was unique.
The Fermanagh native was 30 years of age back in 2010 when he first hatched the concept to Stevie McDonnell (Armagh), Paddy Cunningham (Antrim), Val Andrews/Terry Hyland (Cavan), Michael Conlan/Danny Devlin (Derry), Aidan Carr (Down), Barry Owens (Fermanagh), Dick Clerkin (Monaghan), Ryan McMenamin (Tyrone) and, finally, a certain Kevin Cassidy.
The magnitude of such a project, even now, looks exhausting but it was a measure of Bogue’s enthusiasm for Gaelic games. The fact that individuals from all nine counties within the province agreed to take part was a real endorsement of the writer. He was one to be trusted.
Bogue you see is, without a doubt, one of the most personable lads you’ll meet in any press box. He always has a hello and always has a first name for whoever files past him.
Even now, it’s hard to believe that his innocent-enough-looking project would have such seismic ramifications down the track.
Around about the same time Declan was piecing together a template for his first book, Jim McGuinness was stepping up to senior intercounty management for the very first time. They didn’t realise it then but they were on a collision course.
Donegal, or the Donegal of that time, were a much different proposition to the one of the here and now. But so too was their new manager. There was no aura or mystique at that early stage. That would all come with time.
But there certainly was venom and a ruthlessness in the way he went about his business with Donegal, from the very off.
Donegal were, in McGuinness’ own words back then, a laughing stock with a party boys tag they’d both earned and deserved.
The Glenties man had been overlooked for the top position on two previous occasions and only got the nod in late 2010 as he was the only one still there with his hand up. Drastic times called for drastic measures. But by 2012 Donegal were All-Ireland champions.
Bogue’s book though detailed the 2011 season where Tir Chonaill picked up a first Ulster SFC crown in 19 seasons and were just about edged out in that notorious All-Ireland semi-final clash with Dublin.
That was late August of that year. The following November the Donegal News ran extracts from Bogue’s book centring on Cassidy’s input. And that’s when the fuse was first lit on this most combustible of powder kegs.
“I’d approached all those lads in 2010 and I’d it all arranged by September or October,” Bogue explained.
“Some might say it was a miracle they all agreed, even back then. I’m saying that in the context of the treatment Kevin got at the end of it. But that was the only person it happened to.
“I’d say for the most part, there probably were a lot of managers that didn’t even bother reading it or had any interest in it.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago but you’re talking about another generation that’s since come up with social media. It just wasn’t the animal it is now at that time. Many of those lads probably didn’t even have Twitter accounts at the time.
“People have got so wary of social media now that they’re actually wary of mainstream media as well. People are so image conscious that they mightn’t be as inclined to help some one out as easily with a book like that. I might be wrong – but that’s how I see it now.”
Putting the benefit of hindsight to one side for a moment, Kevin Cassidy was probably the least of Bogue’s concerns by the time he’d filed the last of his copy for the printers.
There is a skewed narrative now that Cassidy wrote a book, an autobiography. But the Gaoth Dobhair man was just a small part of a much more interesting tale.
The depth and personal insight given by so many of the others involved was, and reading This Is Our Year again all this time later, still is, much more interesting.
Some of it, like Paddy Cunningham’s concerns about Antrim’s direction at the time, had much more potential to cause friction.
“The way I sawa it was that you have a book that followed 11 different people, nine footballers and the management team of Cavan. Mickey Conlan was the Derry goalkeeper but he got injured unfortunately and fell out of favour.
“Danny Devlin sort of picked up the baton after that. He ends up facing the penalty against (Michael) Murphy in the Ulster final that year.
“They were all so different, wildly different in terms of their personalities. Aidan Carr was someone who was very self contained, a complete polar opposite character of say a Kevin Cassidy.
“Paddy Cunningham had captained Antrim to an Ulster final two years before. But things were getting on top of him. Suddenly what had worked for Antrim in 2009 didn’t work for them in 2010. So things might have been getting a little stale for them by 2011.
“Paddy also had his health problems so that was also weighing down on him. Barry Owens’ story was brilliant. He was a two-time All-Star, made captain of his county for the first time. He never got the captaincy after that one year with John O’Neill. That was remarkable.
“John probably came away looking bad as all the players walked out in Fermanagh. And John himself spent a decade playing for his county. His uncle was on the 1959 All-Ireland junior winning side.
“You’d all these different lads that had a massive involvement in their counties. Dick Clerkin revealed himself to be a completely different character to the one some might have thought him to be.
“The story of Val Andrews, his personal life, his son Joseph who’s a quadriplegic; it was a book I felt about people as much as anything else.”
He added: “There was only one instance in the book where I went into great detail and that was when Michael Hegarty and a few other Donegal players knitted together this really intricate and long passage of play in the Ulster final to score against Derry.
“That was the only detailed piece of action. Because people aren’t really interested in that. They are interested in ‘what are that team doing?’, ‘how is so and so reacting on the field?’
“There was a great one where Cassidy and Ricey (Ryan McMenamin) were at each other’s throats in the Ulster semi-final.
“Ricey had actually been texting Cassidy in the lead up to it and they continued that onto the field. We’d never heard of that type of stuff back in 2011. I felt the book was enriched by all of that.
“If you’d asked me back then, the least of my worries was Kevin Cassidy. I actually had high hopes that there’d be a good few Donegal lads at the book launch in Gaoth Dobhair as it was so complementary to them.”
Again, through the prism of retrospect, Bogue’s next revelation, and he laughs as he recalls the idea now; was that he was actually on the brink of asking McGuinness to contribute.
“I sat manys an evening wondering at what point will I ring McGuinness and get his voice in there. That was my notion, I was thinking how he could really add to the thing.
“But I felt half way through it, he needed to remain this mysterious figure, this unknown. But he still hung over the book even though he wasn’t a part of it.”
With the extracts from This Is Our Year carried in the papers, McGuinness’ actions were swift and seemingly decisive. He believed Cassidy’s comments betrayed his panel’s internal code of omerta and removed the veteran servant from the intercounty football scene.
But again, history has a strange way of rewriting itself and an important chapter of this tale too often gets left by the wayside. Attempts were made by McGuinness to coax his two-time All-Star back in from the cold.
Bogue explained: “I was a little annoyed when Kevin was cut from the panel that it was portrayed as this cut throat, ballsy move by McGuinness. ‘What a guy’ kind of stuff.
“Well if it was that ballsy why then go up to Kevin’s school at Easter and ask Kevin personally to rejoin the panel? The truth of the matter is, and Jim has never acknowledged this, he behaved childishly.
“It was a childish reaction. Silly. And that’s not to take away from all that he achieved. You have to recognise that he was a complete game changer as an inter county manager. He was an amazing manager. And he could convey his message so well, so articulately like no one we’d seen before or have seen since.
“Journalists in their dealings with him would have said they were in awe listening to him as he was that good of a communicator. You have to respect him. But there is this narrative that he took that action, and he stuck by it come hell or high water. He didn’t really. He rowed back on it.
“He tried to get Kevin back in because he felt he needed him. Of course in the end, it turned out he didn’t. But the whole episode shouldn’t be used as a means by people to praise him.
“He knew himself it wasn’t the right thing to do on a human level. But even then, after that, the cancelling of the team holiday for Kevin and his wife Sarah was just wrong.”
With so much dust kicked up in the months between the end of the 2011 season and the beginning of the 2012 one, the ground finally seemed like it had settled by the time the serious action got under way once again come the summer of that historic year.
Donegal, picking up serious momentum as they went, defended their Ulster title and blazed a seriously impressive path all the way to an All-Ireland final.
Indeed, that feat was achieved with such conviction and swagger that the Tir Chonaill faithful returned to Croke Park for the decider against Mayo in complete expectation, not hope.
This was meant to be McGuinness’ finest moment, he was supposed to bask in it. But the man that entered the press auditorium after, deep in the bowels of the Hogan Stand, seemed oblivious to the feat just achieved. He was vexed, irritated.
He briefly whispered with Croke Park media staff before walking out again. Bogue was then informed by GAA press officer Siobhan Brady that the new All-Ireland winning manager would not return while he remained present.
McGuinness, in his own book, writes that he’d been informed of Bogue’s presence by someone in the corridor as he made his way towards the adjoining press room.
Interestingly, he also penned that he didn’t know what the This Is Our Year author looked like.
But this was no Usual Suspects type line up, there was no guess work at place here. There was a firm glance Bogue’s direction as McGuinness took his seat and the mood instantly darkened.
“I went to press events that year in Ballybofey, the post match stuff, all that seemed to be fine. There was no indication of what was to come.
“As soon as he walked into the room his eyes met my eyes as I was standing across the way. He put the head down right away and I could see that his mood was black.
“To be honest, and you ask how it affected me, I honestly don’t think about this stuff. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. At the time, it was a little uncomfortable, yeah.
“But I didn’t think it was all that brave that Jim left the room and got someone else to come in and speak on his behalf to me. To be quite frank, I knew that the other lads, particularly the Donegal ones from the local papers, probably had 40-page supplements to get through on this.
“My first instinct was to carry on and let them get their work done without me. In my naivety, even after, I didn’t think there would be much more said on it. I picked up a few interviews outside the dressing rooms from the players and then carried back on up to my station in the press area.
“But all of a sudden other journalists were then asking me to make a comment. I’d no wild interest. What would I be saying? I didn’t appreciate how big it would be.
“The thing with sport, everything kind of moves on instantly. I kinda did too. Every now and then it’ll crop up. I’ve a friend that still introduces me as the lad that cost Kevin Cassidy an All-Ireland medal.
“On the Monday after, I sat down and wrote a column on it. But by the Tuesday I’d moved on to the right story, the one of Donegal and their achievement and how they’d changed football. I’d moved on myself.
“Brian Og Maguire god rest him, a Fermanagh footballer, had died on the 13th of September. My home club Tempo were in the Fermanagh county final the week after the All-Ireland. Lisnaskea, Brian Og’s club, were the opposition.
“You know eaten bread is soon forgotten and it was a case of what have you got this week with my paper? I went and spoke to people from Lisnaskea who had buried their clubmate and were playing in a county final soon after.
“We won it and it was our first county final victory in something like 38 years. So I was straight into all of that. So you move on pretty quickly.
“Now, it crops up every now and then. And even today, your call… but I’ve never dwelled on it.”
The price paid by Kevin Cassidy only really registered in the moments and hours after the final whistle that same sunny September day eight years ago.
But what was his crime? Picking up the phone and helping someone else out – someone with only good intentions looking to make a dent of their own in their chosen field?
Back when the initial storm was brewing, Bogue offered Cassidy a way out of his predicament. Complete denial. But the Donegal man refused to take it.
“I sat down with Kevin for a feature before their Ulster club clash with Crossmaglen in 2018. I asked him, all these years later, did he regret talking to me for my book.
“His words were no, absolutely not. How easy would it have been for him to turn around at the time and say to Jim ‘I told him not to say that, it was off the record’. At the time I would have said to him to go that direction, say it was off the record.
“Put it on me. I’ll take the rap if it puts it right for yourself. But he wouldn’t do it. He was too honest. That kind of honesty, at your own personal cost, is very rare.
“The composure he displayed, and the refusal he showed to save his own skin; I couldn’t respect him any more.”