Kickhams Creggan 0-13 St Mary’s Ahoghill 1-7
Saturday September 2
By Brendan McTaggart
The introduction of Mark Dougan at the start of the second half provided much needed impetus to a Creggan side who had been second best for most of the opening 30 minutes and had been fortunate only to trail St. Mary’s Ahoghill by two points as the sides headed for the dressing room at half time.
They emerged again with Dougan leading the attack to advance to the last four of the Antrim senior football championship with this three point win over their near rivals Ahoghill on Saturday afternoon. It was a hard fought victory for Kevin Madden’s men who were far from their best throughout the hour. Ahoghill led by two points at the interval and but for a string of wide’s from the St Mary’s men the final score could have painted a different picture.
Creggan managed to hold Ahoghill to just one point for the second 30 minutes as they began to get on top of the impressive St Mary’s midfield that dominated in the first half.
Ahoghill came into the quarter-final as huge underdogs having struggled in the league but the Clooney side made a dream start to the tie, Donal Graham bagging a fourth minute goal from the penalty spot to put them on the front foot. Ahoghill packed their defence and frustrated the Creggan men for long periods of the first half and while the Kickham’s had plenty of possession, Ahoghill always looked dangerous in attack. Creggan regularly found Conor or Kevin Small but the regimented Ahoghill defence were hugely impressive in the opening half and crowded any Kickham’s attacks. Pushing up on any Creggan restarts, Ahoghill were forcing Oisin Kerr to kick long and with the midfield duo of Niall O’Connell and Thomas McGlone in superb form, Ahoghill were able to put the Creggan defence under pressure once the game settled.
In a close and intense opening quarter, the sides traded points with Odhran McLarnon and Thomas McGlone’s efforts with the outside of their boots the highlight. Ahoghill managed to maintain their goal advantage though Creggan were guilty of lacking composure in the final third on numerous occasions.
Both sides spurned goal chances in the opening half, first Conor Small finding the cross bar with his placed effort in the 16th minute before PJ O’Connell forced a superb save from Oisin Kerr with the ball deflecting off the post to safety.
Creggan were forced into an early change with Fintan Burke replacing the injured Aidan McKeown but as the game entered the final five minutes of the half, Ahoghill held a four point lead, James O’Connell becoming the fifth player in a red and black shirt to register a score in the first half. Creggan fought back though and found their range just before half time. Three points in as many minutes from Conor McCann, Charles Devlin and Conor Small reduced the deficit to just one point before PJ O’Connell landed his second point of the match to leave two points between the sides at the short whistle.
Such was the Creggan pressure towards the end of the first half, the whistle probably came at the wrong time from their perspective. Ahoghill were certainly impressive in the first 30 minutes and stuck to their game plan. They switched off in the closing stages though and Creggan took advantage.
Seeing a need for change with how the first half played out, the Creggan management introduced Mark Dougan at the interval and the Creggan man made a huge impact right from the throw in. He would finish the match with three points, two from placed ball but his physical presence in the Creggan full forward line gave Ahoghill plenty to think about while it gave the Small brothers, Kevin and Conor the perfect foil.
Creggan took the lead for the first time in the match when Conor Small split the posts in the ninth minute but Ahoghill were already beginning to suffer with a lack of accuracy in front of the posts at the other end of the pitch. They would end the match with their wides tally in double figures and Creggan proved to be more clinical when the need arose.
With Kevin Rice and Conor McCann finding more joy from their Ahoghill counterparts in the second half, Creggan were able to maintain the pressure on the Ahoghill defence. The foundations of the St Mary’s good work in the first half came from their dominance in the middle third of the pitch and once Creggan nullified their threat, they began to turn the screw.
Ahoghill did counter when the chance arrived but a mix of good Creggan defending and mainly, poor shooting proved to be their downfall.
Despite all the Creggan pressure though, the Ahoghill men had chances in the closing stages to get at least a draw from the game but Creggan saw out the closing stages to advance to the last four and a meeting with Lámh Dhearg in the semi’s. The closing five minutes of the first half proved to be the turning point of the tie. If Ahoghill could have held onto their four point advantage until the interval it could have prompted a different response from the Kickhams. The three point victory was harsh on Ahoghill who played their part in a tough and competitive championship tie. Creggan had to fight all the way and will be relieved to have survived but they know that they will have to produce a much improved performance or their championship will come to an abrupt end in the last four.
Creggan: Oisin Kerr, Conor McCann (0-1), Sam Maguire, Oistin McAteer, Declan McCann, Thomas McCann, Charles Devlin (0-1), Conor McCann (0-1), Kevin Rice (0-1), Odhran McLarnon (0-1), Ruairi McCann, Aidan McKeown, Tiernan McAteer, Kevin Small (0-3, 1 free), Conor Small (0-2)
Subs: Fintan Burke for A McKeown (25 mins); Mark Dougan (0-3, 2 frees) for D McCann (HT), Liam Quinn for T McAteer (46 mins), Jamie McCann for C Devlin (48 mins)
Ahoghill: Francis Neeson, Eamon Brady, Stephen O’Connell, Bernard Graham, Thomas Hamill, Diarmuid Graham, Patrick Graham, Niall O’Connell, Thomas McGlone (0-1), Daniel O’Neill (0-2), James O’Connell (0-1), Fiontann O’Neill, PJ O’Connell (0-3, 1 free), Donal Graham (1-00, 1-00 pen), Sean O’Connell
Subs: Martin Graham for S O’Connell (40 mins), Gerard Graham for D Graham (46 mins), Dominic Neeson for T Hamill (56 mins), Eoin Neeson for P Graham (57 mins)
Referee: Brendan Toland (Lámh Dhearg)