Creggan bridge 41-year gap to make senior final

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Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Semi-final

St John’s 1-10-2-09 Creegan Kickhams

By Kevin Herron at Chapel Hill Glenavy

Creggan made it to their first senior football final since 1977 after defeating St John’s 2-09-1-10 in a tight and tense semi-final at Glenavy on Sunday afternoon.

By coincidence the last time the South-West club played in a senior decider was the day before current team manager Kevin Madden was born. On Sunday the Portlenone man made a wee bit of histroy by guiding the Kickhams back to a final, something that will surely add to his 41st birthday celebrations tomorrow. A first-half goal from Sam Maguire and a Conor Small penalty late in the game were the scores that really sunk St John’s to set up an intriguing final against parish neighbours Cargin in two weeks time.

The Johnnies were down to 14-men after the dismissal of Ciaran Garland to a second yellow-card minutes before Small converted from the spot – but Ryan McNulty set-up a grandstand finish, stabbing to the net after a scramble inside the Creggan area. St John’s couldn’t find a decisive score in injury-time however as Kevin Madden’s men hung on for a famous win at Chapel Hill.

HCreggan’s Sam Maguire (5) celebrates after scoring his team’s opening goal.

There was no clear favourite prior to the semi-final clash with many predicting a tense affair for the right to meet Cargin in the final.

Fintan Burke got Creggan off to the perfect start with a fine shot that sailed between the posts within the opening sixty-seconds – though Brian ‘Bam’ Neeson responded for St John’s at the other end with a trademark converted free into a difficult wind.

Tommy McCann restored Creggan’s lead from a converted free – the outcome was hotly disputed however after appearing to sail wide in the breeze, but St John’s hit back again from a converted free – this time through Patrick McBride in front of the posts.

David McGuckin edged Creggan 0-03-0-02 ahead on eight minutes with a fisted point and it was a lead the Staffordstown Road side wouldn’t relinquish. The men in green and gold doubled their lead through Tommy McCann – who atoned for a missed free a minute previous after collecting a pass from Fintan Burke.

Bam Neeson cut the deficit with a second converted free, midway through the first-half – but Creggan hit the game’s opening goal within sixty seconds.

On 16 minutes Odhran McLarnon darted forward and slipped in David McGuckin who was fouled – McGuckin was able to offload to Sam Maguire however and though the Creggan number five’s shot was partially blocked by St John’s ‘keeper Lambert, the ball trickled underneath his grasp and into the St John’s net despite the frantic efforts of defender Micheal Dudley.

Patrick McBride responded with his second free of the half for St John’s with ten minutes remaining, but Creggan were on the front foot and a converted free from Kevin Small was followed by a 45’ by Ruairi McCann.

Matthew Fitzpatrick conjured up a point in response for the Johnnies after a tough battle to break though the Creggan rearguard, which left the Corrigan Park side trailing 0-05-1-06 at the midway point.

OCreggan’s Conor McCann gets past the challenge of St John’s Andy McGowan.

Playing with a strong breeze in the second period the Johnnies quickly opened their account through an excellent curling effort by Matt Fitzpatrick, but Creggan responded in turn through Thomas McCann.

Creggan goalkeeper Oisin Kerr had to be alert on 36 minutes as Patrick McBride fed Bam Neeson whose shot took a heavy bounce before Kerr gathered under pressure.

The sides traded scores through converted frees by Neeson and Ruairi McCann – a 47th minute free from Neeson, his fourth of the game reduced the deficit to a goal once again but St John’s suffered a set-back in the 48th minute.

Already on a booking for a challenge earlier in the second-half Ciaran Garland was shown a second yellow-card by referee Brendan Toland for bringing down David McGuckin and the Johnnies would be forced into a reshuffle to combat their numerical disadvantage.

Patrick McBride made it a two point game with a wonderful point ten minutes from time, but when David McGuckin was taken out by St John’s defender Conor McEvoy, referee Toland showed McEvoy a black card and signalled for a penalty.

Conor Small assumed responsibility and confidently rifled low past Lambert to give Creggan a 2-08-0-09 lead and in the process surely set-up a final date with close rivals Cargin in the county final.

St John’s weren’t about to fold however and last year’s beaten finalists provided a grandstand finish and kept their hopes of a second successive appearance in the decider alive.  With three minutes left Patrick McBride hoisted a high ball into a congested Creggan penalty area, a scramble ensued and black-card substitute Ryan McNulty stabbed past Oisin Kerr and into the net to make it a two-point game, 2-08-1-09.

Creggan were suddenly under pressure, but substitute Matthew Rodgers eased the nerves when he found room on the right and raced through to shoot between the posts and put a goal between the sides. When a converted McBride free reduced arrears to two again and in a frantic finish Conor Johnston burst forward in a late solo run and went for glory with a shot that was deflected and looped into the arms of Oisin Kerr under heavy pressure.

Creggan ran the clock down in the aftermath and were overcome with joy when referee Brendan Toland sounded his final whistle after four additional minutes had elapsed.

Kevin Madden’s side will now take on near rivals Cargin in the county decider in two-weeks time – hoping to end 64-year wait for the Padraig McNamee cup.

NSt John’s Patrick McBride is hauled back by Creggan’s Sam Maguire.

Creggan Kickhams: O Kerr, A Maguire, R Johnston, C McCann, S Maguire (1-00), T McCann (0-03, 0-02f), R McCann (0-02, 0-01f, 0-01 45’), C McCann, K Rice, O McLarnon, K Small (0-01f), F Burke (0-01), D McGuckin (0-01), C Small (1-00f), L Quinn. Subs: M Rodgers (0-01) for O McLarnon (43 mins), A McAteer for T McCann (60 mins).

St John’s: ER Lambert, C Garland, M Dudley, L Laverty, J Hannigan, C Johnston, C McEvoy, M Fitzpatrick (0-02), R McCafferty, M Bradley, C Johnston, A McGowan, S Tierney, B Neeson (0-04f), P McBride (0-04, 0-03f). Subs: R McNulty (1-00) for M Dudley (black-card sub: 41 mins), P Gribbin for R McCafferty (42 mins), A Douglas for L Laverty (black card sub: 43 mins), L Pedan for A McGowan (52 mins), R Hannigan for C McEvoy (black card sub: 55 mins), C McGlade for S Tierney (60 mins)

Referee: Brendan Toland (Lámh Dhearg)

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