The Football Championship 2018 Revisited
With 2018 almost over and the talk of pre-season activity amongst more than a few clubs it is time to revisit the football championships and look back at the winners and the path they travelled on their journey to success.
We start with the Antrim Senior football championship and the path to the final taken by eventual winners Cargin as they defeated neighbours Creggan in a first ever all South West final.
The senior championship takes center stage and it is the ultimate dream for participating clubs at the start of each season.
Lamh Dhearg were the custodians of the Padraig McNamee cup at the outset, but the Hannahstown men were not to start as favourites despite that famous win over the Johnnies in a dramatic 2017 decider.
Indeed it was Erin’s Own Cargin who took on the dubious mantle of favourite, the kiss of death for many but the 2016 champions were to prove the bookies right on this occasion.
The Toome men had installed Damien Cassidy as manager at the start of the season and it was probably the arrival of the Bellaghy man to the Cargin hot seat which had prompted such favour.
The draw as it happened ensured that a first ever all country decider between Erin’s Own Cargin and Kickham’s, Creggan looked a distinct possibility.
In the event such prediction was to prove right on the mark and the history making event took place before a huge attendance at Clooney in the 2018 Antrim senior football championship final in the culmination of the competition which had started six weeks previously, on May 21st.
With twelve sides included in the draw to include second division placed St Brigid’s and the seeding system which ensured the top four finishers from the 2016 division one were to occupy quarter final places four preliminary round games necessitated.
The opening game of the preliminaries saw St Mary’s Ahoghill line out against St Brigid’s in Ballymena on September 8th with the eventual winners drawn against Kickham’s Creggan.
In the event the Clooney men having started as favourites prevailed on a 2-10 to 1-12 winning scoreline but the South Belfast men finished strongly and ensured their country cousins had to work for their passage.
Later on in the afternoon in what was another country versus city affair St Teresa’s were to prove too strong for the challenge offered by St Joseph’s Glenavy with the West Belfast men ensuring a place in the quarter finals and a next round assignment against St John’s crossing the finish line with a 3-12 to 1-07 win at Sarsfields.
Attention switched to the Creggan and Glenavy venues on the next day as Casement’s faced the challenge of Rossa at the Staffordstown road venue early in the afternoon, 1.30pm, with the reigning champions Lamh Dhearg, set to cross swords with Aghagallon up at the Chapel Hill at 5.30.
In the opening game Jude Donnelly’s charges claimed passage to ensure a quarter final date with St Gall’s, crossing the finish line with a five point advantage over the Shaw’s road side following a keenly contested, entertaining game on a finishing score of 3-13 to 3-08.
The second game on the Sunday programme saw a good crowd assemble at Glenavy and although Lamh Dhearg were to field without a few regulars including Declan Lynch and Conor Murray the Hannahstown men sounded warning that they were on course for a retention of the title with a good twelve point win at 2-15 to 0-09 to set up a quarter final meeting with Cargin.
Mairtin Lynch’s men had not been seen at their best in the league but championship seemed to relight the fire within.
The week-end 21st/23rd September was assigned for the quarter finals and first up was the all South West affair as Kickham’s Creggan were to take on St Mary’s Ahoghill in an evening game at Quinn Park, the home of All Saint’s Ballymena.
Creggan started this one as firm favourites and although Kevin Madden’s men had to dig deep to get the better of the Clooney men when they met in the championship last term they top of the league at this stage having already secured both the O’ Cahan cup and the Reserve championship.
Madden’s men were never troubled as they recorded a comprehensive win over the Clooney side running out 4-13 to 0-08 winners and a semi-final berth secured.
The second quarter-final saw former champions St Gall’s drawn against Casement’s on Saturday afternoon with Corrigan Park the chosen venue.
Casement’s having already lowered the Milltown Row sides colours in league fare were expected to give Sean Kelly’s side a game but in the event the rejuvenated St Gall’s were having none of it.
Going well in the league from the outset the Lower Falls residents underlined current wellbeing and signalled intent on a return to the podium again when they crossed the line with an eye catching 3-11 to 1-08 winning advantage.
The third quarter final saw the action moved to Creggan as the defending champions looked to make progress in defence of the title when they faced the challenge of Cargin.
Damien Cassidy’s men had failed to impress in the league fare and they seemed on their way out of championship when the Paddy Cunningham led Lamh Dhearg came from well off the pace to earn a two point lead with time almost up.
The Toome men finished strongly however and a couple of late Tomas McCann points earned a second chance and a replay at Corrigan Park on the following Sunday.
In the event Cassidy’s men grasped the second chance firmly with both hands and despite being reduced to 14 with Michael McCann picking up a second ‘yellow’ early in play they dominated proceedings to cross the line and into the semis and another championship meeting with St Gall’s on a winning scoreline of 0-11 to 0-05.
The third quarter final tie involved city rivals as St John’s lined out against the St Teresa’s at Sarsfield’s. St Teresa’s had caused upset a few years earlier when they ousted the Johnnies in a first round shock but there was to be no repeat performance in this one as the Whiterock road men dominated from the outset and had plenty in hand, easing into the semi-final on a 3-14 to 0-09 winning scoreline.
The opening semi-final was the subject of last minute change as the original venue, Corrigan Park was moved to Creggan and a huge crowd assembled on the Staffordstown road as old rivals Cargin and St Gall’s lined out.
They travelled from far and wide in anticipation and as events were to unfold nobody was to leave disappointed as they were about to witness a superb game of end to end activity.
St Gall’s dominated in the early stages and indeed Sean Kelly’s side seemed on their way to another Antrim final when they held a six point advantage well into the last quarter.
Cargin were far from finished however and when Jamie Gribbin found the net late in the day to see the Toome men level they looked in business.
St Gall’s were quick to return fire however and late points from Michael Pollock and Eoghan Mc Cabe seemed to have ensured victory but there was to be a sting in the tail.
With a place in the final looking unlikely Tomas Mc Cann fired a ‘last kick’ free over a crowded goal line to the back of the net and Cargin had claimed a dramatic win and a place in the final.
Creggan and the 2017 beaten finalists St John’s contested the second semi-final at Glenavy on a wet and windy Sunday afternoon. Kevin Madden’s men with the wind at their backs dominated the opening period and a couple of early goals from Sam Maguire and Conor Small put them in a strong position.
St. Johns rallied in the second half but despite the efforts of the Matthew Fitzpatrick there was to be no way back for the Corrigan side.
Creggan concluded with a 2-09 to 1-10 advantage to set up a first ever meeting of South West sides against Erin’s Own Cargin and a replay of the O’Cahan Cup final which Creggan had won earlier in the year.
The event was scheduled for Sunday 21st October in Ahoghill and when the day arrived a huge crowd, gathered from far and near, and even attracted a week-end visitor from Australia.
In the event those who had travelled in anticipation of a ‘classic’ were to be disappointed as the fear of losing seemed to inhibit both sides in a low scoring final. A late Michael McCann point, exquisite in delivery from a young man of whom his manager, Damien Cassidy has named as his Rolls Royce ensuring a 0-05 to 0-04 win for Cargin.
Not the greatest of finals but you would be hard pressed to find agreement within the ranks of the Erin’s Own supporters as they celebrated a third senior title in the past four years and their eighth in total which ensure 4th place in the pecking order behind St John’s, St Gall’s, and O’ Donovan Rossa.