Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship (semi-final)
Erin’s Own Cargin 2-17 St Gall’s 4-10
Geordie McGuckin reports from Creggan
With his team facing the prospect of leaving the stage as he stood over the ball deep in added time at the end of what had been a truly dramatic and absorbing semi-final, Tomas Mc Cann considered his options with his team a couple of points in arrears.
Some may well have guessed that the hugely talented individual would opt for the simple tap over to add to his considerable personal tally, but that was not an option as referee Sean Laverty had indicated that this was to be the ‘last kick’ of the game. It was do or die for Mc Cann as he picked up the leather knowing that anything less than a goal would bring the curtain down on his team’s championship campaign. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and McCann stood up to the mark as he let fly with the proverbial bullet over the hands of the St Gall’s defenders on the goal line to set the green flag waving and book his team a place in yet another final. It was a truly fantastic finish to a memorable game, in which two teams who have dominated Antrim football for most part of the last two decades, went toe to toe. Two first half goals had given St Gall’s a great start, but Cargin clawed their way back to restore parity by half time. When St Gall’s started the second half in similar fashion with quick goals from Kevin Niblock and Kieran McGourty it looked like they had regained control, but Cargin would not give up the fight and they battled back to level with just minutes remaining. When St Gall’s responded with two quick points to wrestle back the initiative with time almost up it appeared they had done enough, but Cargin kept plugging away. When McCann was denied a goal by a brilliant save by St Gall’s keeper Chris Kerr the signs were they would hold on, but Cargin were thrown a lifeline when they were awarded a 13 metre free and McCann produced his moment of magic to spark scenes of celebration among the Cargin faithful.
CJ McGourty celebrates with his brother Kieran after scoring his team’s second goal
A huge crowd had gathered at the Staffordstown Road grounds, the home of Kickham’s Creggan, on Saturday afternoon, and indeed the thrown-in time had to be held back for fifteen minutes to ensure entrance to those gaining admittance.
Those who came arrived in expectation and indeed they were not to be disappointed as Cargin and St Gall’s were to serve up a treat in a superb 60 minutes plus, and indeed one individual was heard to pass remark leaving the ground that he had long since been more an admirer of hurling but he went on “By God if football would follow in such manner as this one I may well change my opinion.”
A treat in store for the attendance and the Cargin men were first to make a mark on the board in excellent conditions not at all spoiled by the stiff cross field north westerly breeze as Tomas McCann despatched a 30 metre free between the posts.
CJ McGourty ensured the men from the Lower Falls were abreast when he clipped a free between the posts at the other end a few minutes later and although a foul on the advancing Ciaran Bradley enabled the ever accurate McCann to raise a second white flag in reply, this was to be the only occasion that the Toome men were in front until the dramatic conclusion.
A precision based Chris Kerr kick out in the 8th minute saw Sean Kelly and Mickey Pollock create an opening for Michael Pollock to find the net, and although the excellent Tony Scullion made quick reply with a point at the other end another accurate delivery from the resultant kick out saw CJ McGourty pounce to add a second goal.
Cargin having started with promise had endured gut wrenching setbacks and St Gall’s had earned a 2-01 to 0-03 advantage.
Cargin regained their composure and as they got to grips with the well-rehearsed St Gall’s kick-outs they regained a foot hold in the game and three white flags raised without reply saw them just a point in arrears by the end of the opening quarter.
Jamie Gribbin who looks better with every outing nipped away through the middle to split the posts in the 11th minute and well served by a Tomas McCann pass after Michael Magill claimed another Tony Scullion delivery the former added another, a couple of minutes later.
Tomas McCann added another point splitting the posts in the 15th minute but after being on the back foot for a term and having to rethink the kick out strategies the Milltown men got back in the groove as CJ McGourty delivered another free kick between the posts before Eoghan McCabe added one from play to see them go 2-03 to 0-06 clear.
However despite trailing, Cargin were controlling a lot of the play during the opening period, with Gerard McCann and Kevin McShane in charge in the vital central zone. A Jamie Gribbin point following a James Laverty, Michael Mc Cann approach, saw Cargin pull one back and with the ever accurate Tomas McCann adding four excellent points from frees they were keeping St Gall’s in their sights, despite CJ McGourty claiming a couple at the other end, and by the time Sean Laverty had sounded the short whistle, they were back on terms at 0-11 to 2-05.
St Gall’s Kevin Niblock who was brilliant at full forward for the Belfast men.
A thrilling opening period well filled with all the ingredients required to make a classic ensured the packed attendance anticipated some of the same in part two, and as events were to proceed they were not to be disappointed,
A place in the senior decider looked up for grabs but if some may well have fancied the chances of the Toome men judged on their dominance of the latter stages of the first half the second period was still in its infancy when many would have changed their minds.
In fact only a few minutes had progressed when the men from the Milltown Row added back to back goals as the Cargin defence were left rooted to the spot as a well contrived movement opened the way for the brilliant Kevin Niblock to blast to the net before his cute flick sent Kieran McGourty in to add another.
Niblock was in tremendous form throughout as was his opposite number at the other end Michael Magill, as both occupied the attentions of several markers throughout, none of whom were able to quell the pairs brilliance.
The former All Ireland champs looked firmly in charge but just as in the first half Cargin soon showed the double blow may have shaken them, but they still carried a mighty punch of their own. With Tony Scullion, James Laverty, Justin Crozier and the like driving from the back and Gerard McCann and Kevin McShane prominent in the middle of the park, they got themselves back into contention.
Tomas McCann raised white after another foul on the dominant Michael Magill and although CJ McGourty replied in kind at the other end drilling between the posts, despite facing an acute angle, further points from Tomas McCann following good approach work by Justin Crozier and his brother Michael ensured only a score divided the sides, St Gall’s at 4-06 to 0-15.
Cargin veteran Tony Scullion rolled back the years with a fantastic display.
St Galls looked to pull away again as CJ McGourty despatched another free between the posts but the eye catching efforts of Jamie Gribbin sent Ciaran Bradley in to reply at the other end. Michael Pollock sent another free between the Cargin posts, but a gut busting Tony Scullion approach, and a blasted finish, which whizzed jut over the crossbar ensured the Toome men remained within range.
The last minutes saw Gall’s retain possession in well organised formation but Cargin remained in focus awaiting their opportunity and indeed that moment arrived as Michael Magill rose to knock the high delivery back into the danger zone where Jamie Gribbin seized to opportunity with both hands and planted the leather to the back of the net to bring the Toome men level.
Having been reeled in St Gall’s were briefly shaken, but calling on all the experience gathered in those positive successful campaigns they soon regained composure and back to back points by Eoghan McCabe and Michael Pollock gave them a two point cushion as the clock ticked past the sixty minute mark.
The 2010 All Ireland champions must have felt they had done enough this time, but Cargin were unrelenting and a defence splitting move gave McCann the goal opportunity, which Kerr brilliantly turned away. The Cargin fans must have thought their chance was gone but when the men in green were awarded a 13 metre free Tomas McCann wrote his name in bright lights with a finish that will live long in the memory.
Tomas McCann fires the ball to the St Gall’s net with the last kick of the game.
David John Mc Nabb, Donnach Mc Keever, Kevin O’ Boyle, James Laverty, Tony Scullion (0-01), Justin Crozier, Michael Clarke, Gerard Mc Cann, Kevin Mc Shane, Ciaran Bradley (0-01), Michael Mc Cann, Jamie Gribbin (1-03), Tomas Mc Cann (1-09), Michael Magill (0-03), Enda Mc Grogan
Gerard Mc Corley for K O’ Boyle
John Carron for M Clarke
Kieran Close for E Mc Grogan
David Johnston for D Mc Keever
Chris Kerr, Tomas O’ Ciaran, Andrew Mc Clean, Colin Brady, Jackson Mc Greevey, Conor Burke, Sean Kelly, Aodhan Gallagher, Michael Pollock (1-02), Niall O’ Neill, Ciaran Mc Gourty (1-00), Eoghan Mc Cabe (0-02), Terry O’ Neill, CJ Mc Gourty (1-06), Kevin Niblock (1-00)
Conor Stinton for T O’ Neill
Brendan Bradley for S Kelly
Referee S Laverty (St Ergnat’s)