They battled together for Mayo during the 1990s and tasted defeat in All Ireland finals together, Kevin Cahill and John Casey were two of the major men in John Maughan’s first great Mayo team that reached two All Ireland finals in a row in 1996 and 1997, with Kevin missing out on the second final through injury. Earlier this week they met up with this writer to shoot the breeze about their own memories from those days, some fit to print, plenty of others that we were probably better off not printing, and to cast their eye over this year’s Mayo team and their former team-mate whose now the man in the manager’s T-shirt and what they hope to see in the final
CG: How the build up been to this years final for you?
KC: Being in Ballaghaderreen, and it being Andy Moran’s home club the build up has been great. The flags and bunting have been going up all over the place. The scramble has all been about tickets and tickets, even today the phone never stopped ringing for an hour today at work. Everyone assumes you’ve tickets, but no one genuinely asking for tickets or that’s the way I take it.
JC: Did you not get your ten yet no? I got mine. It’s not as hectic around here, we don’t have any players, which is not great. But it is exciting and as Kevin mentioned the ticket thing has gone on, it’s a bit of fiasco, they were getting out so late. But that’s more down to our opponents I think than anything other reason. If it was Kerry or Cork it wouldn’t be to bad, but it’s the Dubs and their huge support. It’s great to be in an All Ireland final again and I can’t wait.
CG: Looking forward to the game what’s been your impression of Mayo so far?
KC: They’ve been absolutely awesome so far, they’ve blown away all the opposition they’ve met. But obviously on Sunday it’s going to be completely different the opposition is a step up in class. If they play to the full potential they have every chance in the world. I think the game has changed so much over the last three or four years, the whole thing was about being negative and now it’s about the whole 15 players including the goalkeeper being attacking and positive, it’s a lovely game of football to watch and it looks like it’s going to be a big shoot out on Sunday.
JC: I suppose their ability to take goals in the forward line is something major, they struggled in the national league only getting two and ended scoring huge against Donegal, Galway, London that ability is key. The other thing that has impressed me most is the ability of our half back line to attack with purpose and ending up with the end product. It’s something that I think was getting turned over a bit last year, this year it’s ending up with scores.
CG: How would you fare in a game like this if you were still around?
KC: I wouldn’t be at it all, I played nine years and I never scored a point in the red and green. I don’t think I ever passed the midfield. Actually, I passed it once in a league game and I remember it distinctly the keeper turned his backside to me and it hit him straight on the backside. That was my only chance to get a score at all and I fluffed it. (This may or may not be a true story, any of Kevin’s team-mates who’d like to confirm this story drop us a line here. -CG )
CG: When you look at Dublin is there any area in particular where we will have to shut them down?
JC: We’ve played them twice already, both times Mayo scored 16 points against Dublin, but every time Mayo offered the kick out to them. I remember Cian O’Sullivan in particular winning about ten kick-outs in Croke Park and Cluxton just popping little 45m passes to him. At the time maybe the tactic was drift back and let them win it, but I’m sure Mayo will attack up the field this time. We saw what Kerry did against Dublin, they frustrated them and if we do push up high, attack and tackle aggressively up the field and make Dublin let the ball out and let the two O’Shea’s go hammer and tongs for it in the middle of the field and see what happens. It’s something that I think is crucial in not letting Dublin win soft ball from their kick-outs.
KC: I’ve only seen them on the television, they have looked very impressive. The semi-final was a cracker of a game. Bernard Brogan looks to be coming into form and I think if we can stop the supply of ball into him and Paul Mannion and stop goals, we’ve every chance in the world.
CG: Could we exploit the Dublin full back line is it a weakness?
KC: The did look vulnerable against Kerry, with the Gooch pulling the strings there and opening them up. Can we do that? Every game is different, but it’s obviously an area that James and the boys are looking exploit. It’s easier said than done to put it through them, but they did look vulnerable.
CG: What’s it like in a build up to an All Ireland final as a player?
KC: The night before you’re kept away from the whole atmosphere, you don’t really know what’s going on. I think in 1996 the whole thing was about getting on the bus and going in that day, with police escort and heading in and breaking red lights. Then you get near Croke Park and the crowd is shouting and roaring, you feel like a bit of a pop star for an hour or that. Then you get into the dressing room and it’s all quiet again. You get out on the pitch and after a while on the pitch I think you kinda hear nothing.
JC: Yah, nothing, just really a dead calm really.
KC: It’s like a white noise, it’s there but it means nothing. You can hear your team-mates talking on the field and then the noise is just around you. It’s a surreal feeling really, all this noise around you and yet not being able to hear it.
CG: If we look back at that team, one of your team-mates then is now the manager. Did it surprise you he’s been so successful?
JC: If you were to ask me what two players wouldn’t end up managing Mayo from the 1996 team, I think both Kevin and James Horan would have been the answer. It’s incredible what he’s achieved. I wouldn’t have thought he was cut out for a manager, he was very laid back in the dressing room and I think Kevin might have thrown a blanket over him one day in Roscommon when he thought he’d dozed off, it was quite funny. But he’s done a marvellous job, you have to give him credit where it’s due. Sunday will be his 13th game in Croke Park, it’s an achievement that most people could only dream of.
KC: As a player, he was extremely laid back, he wasn’t a great trainer but always an extremely talented footballer. The cold winter nights he didn’t really enjoy, I think he had to be dragged up kicking and screaming on a couple of occasions. (The conversation moves on to a few minutes of various stories of various players skiving off from training runs and one man taking a short cut through a jungle of trees to cut a couple of hundred metres off run. )
CG: The Mayo defence has come in for a lot of praise this year Kevin, has it impressed you?
KC: Absolutely, they have been very, very good individually and as a unit they’ve been excellent. The support for each other seems to be there and they have a great understanding of each other. They’re not afraid to attack and they seem to be able to deal with that, when one goes forward they are able to cover for each other. The Dubs seem to be playing two in the full-forward line and there will be a lot of space there, the best way to defend that is to stop the quality ball going in, and if the lads can stop the quality ball going in to the full forward line it will give them a chance. With all that space there, if the ball coming in is quality it’s very hard as a defender to cover all the space.
CG: As a Ballaghaderreen man with Andy being captain, it could be a great day with him being the first man to bring Sam Maguire back to Mayo since another Ballaghaderreen man.
KC: We’re all wishing him the best of luck and he hits a bit of form, it would be absolutely fabulous for him to lift the cup coming after Sean Flanagan in 1951. It’d be a quirk of nature that it would be another Ballagh’ man or some might say a Roscommon man, but that’s another debate.
JC: He can lift it in the square in Roscommon town if he wants.
CG: As a former forward how good has the Mayo attack been this year John?
KC: The way they tackle, they’ve got some amount of scores this year from turning over ball. We’ve all mentioned the Donie Buckley factor a few times this year. But I was talking to a few of the Mayo players and they gave great credit to Ed Coughlan their physical trainer, I think a lot of the credit has to be given to him for the physical shape they’re in. There was one play in the Donegal game where Paul Durcan pulled off a save and the ball fell to Ryan McHugh and Andy Moran and Kevin McLoughlin engulfed McHugh and smothered him as he was getting up with the ball, and after McHugh got pulled for over carrying and we got a 14 yard free for a simple point, you could see Andy Moran with a clenched fist going yes, you could see how much it meant to him. It showed the scores we can get from turning over ball. That for me has to be the single biggest thing this year, their tackling and intensity and they are putting up huge scores, their lowest score was against Tyrone.
CG: How was your own tackling back in the day?
JC: I used to get a nose bleed, no more than Kevin going forward, I used to get one going back. If we had the physical fitness of these guys it might have been something, but when you’re gasping for air, you try to keep yourself for a forward run.
CG: Has the game changed that much since ye both retired?
KC: Absolutely, I think when we were playing we had one job to do and that’s all you concentrated on, so my job was to stop the full forward getting ball after that I gave it to someone else. John’s job was to get the ball and score.
JC: That was the rumour all right.
KC: That’s all you were asked to do and it was expected to be done.
CG: Would ye have liked to have been playing today, the type of football that’s being played?
KC: I wouldn’t have the ability or the skills set.
JC: I watched the way Donegal tackled last year and thought no way would I want to be a forward playing like that, you couldn’t enjoy it. My first experienced of being double teamed and tackled was against Meath in the All Ireland final and any time I got a sniff away from Darren Fay, I got battered by John McDermott or someone else. It’s changed the fitness levels are huge. We would have thought we couldn’t have got any fitter.
KC: We trained as hard as we possibly could, you couldn’t run any harder than we did. It’s got more scientific also. But they are all doing their own training all the time to. I’d pass the pitch in Ballagh’ and you’d see Andy Moran there all the time kicking balls and working on his own.
JC: The Monday morning after the Tyrone game I was coming down on the train and was talking to a few of the Mayo lads and they were there at 8am and they all had received an email, from Ed Coughlan with their plan of what they were to do today and tomorrow.
CG: Aidan O’Shea has become the man this year and could be footballer of the year
JC: He’s been phenomenal, I don’t want to curse him, but I was tipped for footballer of the year in 1996 before the final and we know what happened. But you know what the footballer of the year will be decided on Sunday. But who no-one is mentioning is his brother who has been outstanding, he was man of the match against Roscommon, brilliant against Galway and could have been easily against Tyrone.
KC: It all comes down to the final really, but he’s been outstanding all season.
CG: Will we win?
KC: Look it’s going to be close, if we play to our potential there’s no reason in the world and I think it would be naive and silly to say we’ll definitely win. But we have what it takes.
JC: I hope that Bernard Brogan brings two left boots with him, if he does and Ger Cafferkey can wrap him up it’ll go a long way. I think in the two league games, he got a good few scores of him and I’m glad that happened in March in the league and Ger Cafferkey has got that experience. Our half back line and half forward line are key to it all.