Brendan McTaggart gives his veiws on Saturday’s epic game
As far as finals go, it wasn’t bad. Was it? Cargin and Lámh Dhearg served up another epic hour before needing extra time to decide the whereabouts of the McNamee Cup for the year and even at that it took another four minutes of injury time to finally get a winner. Jamie Gribben with his third of the match to seal the Erin’s Own sides ninth county title and a two point win.
Where do you start trying to decipher that 80 plus minutes of football? It was an incredible contest between two sides who refused to give up. A final that drew every ounce of character from the top two sides in the county and a gladiatorial contest between two sides who threw everything they had at each other.
Finals like these are won in small but significant moments and Cargin had more of those throughout the tie. The early goal from Tomás McCann was massive while the save John McNabb made to deny Ben Rice a certain goal should go down in Cargin folklore. The sides were tied at that stage with ten minutes remaining, Rice went for power and the near post only for McNabb to make the save of his life. It felt like a pivotal moment and Cargin hit four unanswered points to hold that lead going into injury time.
Tomás McCann’s early goal gave Cargin the perfect start yet it was the Lámh’s who dominated the first half. Cargin were playing much better than the first game but the Hannahstown men were creating chances, breaking the lines and causing the Cargin defence plenty of problems and the Toome side were working tirelessly. Magill’s first major giving them the edge but Lámh Dhearg clawed their way back to trail by the minimum at the interval.
Magill’s second major came four minutes into the second half and reopened a four point lead for Cargin but the Lámh’s kept coming.
Six days previous, it was Cargin who produced the Great Escape but it was Lámh Dhearg’s turn on Saturday afternoon. Paddy Cunningham’s brilliance from frees whether scoring or the vision to pick a man in space had been nothing short of brilliant all game but then again we’ve grown accustomed to such standards from the Lámh’s legend. He and Conor Murray took the fight to Cargin and despite a man less after Rice’s was black carded, Cunningham’s seventh free of the final tied the scores. Cargin were pressured into errors that we aren’t accustomed to seeing from the men in green and the Lámh’s had a sniff of making yet another comeback. That comeback was complete in the eighth minute of injury time, the Hannahstown men made an escape the great Houdini would have been proud off to tie the scores at 3-10 to 0-19.
Extra time and Eoin McKeown’s third point of the final put the Lámh’s ahead for the first time in the match and McNabb took centre stage once again. The ball was delivered long to the inside forward line and Cargin made a mess of reading the dropping ball. Cunningham looked certain to score a goal, side stepped one tackle and showed the composure needed but the Cargin ‘keeper denied him again.
In a game where both sides showed mind blowing fitness levels to play with such intensity for over 90 minutes of football, there were standout performers everywhere. Kevin O’Boyle, a man who is only back playing football and training full time since the start of September lasted the whole match just six days after playing the majority of the first game and kept Cunningham scoreless from play. Michael Magill on the edge of the square with two goals while Ciaran Bradley assisted both and was tireless throughout. McNabb could live off his own performance for the rest of his career while Tomás McCann hit 1-5 after an uncertain start. He led the Cargin attack superbly as the game progressed and was the Toome sides ‘go to’ man when creating chances.
Lamh Dhearg too had heroes all over the pitch. Let’s face it, when you play seven games of football in the championship you should be at least in the provincial decider. They’ve contributed hugely to one of the best county championships in living memory and Saturday’s replay was no different. It isn’t often any side will hit 23 points, 14 from play and still find themselves on the losing side yet that’s what Lámh Dhearg were faced with. Declan Lynch, a superb performance at the heart of the defence. Eoin McKeown tormented the Cargin defence, in the first half especially while Marc Jordan and Kevin Quinn relentless in their pursuit of victory but it was the Murray brothers who led the way. 10 points from play between them, three from Ryan while Conor was my man of the match. Some of the angles he scored from on Saturday defied not only logic but physics as well. If ever there was someone who didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, Conor Murray epitomised that cliché.
Cargin’s bench proved to be the difference between the sides. The introduction of Kieron Close breathed fresh impetus into their attack, scoring four points in his cameo while Kevin McShane coming off the bench for Michael McCann at the end of the hour proved to be a masterstroke. A colossus in the middle of the park and two points in extra time to punctuate his performance.
Extra time was a time for leaders and with the Rolls Royce off injured and Paul McCann gone from a black card early in the second half, Cargin were looking for someone new. Someone to step up to the mantle and bring them over the line. It wasn’t one man, it was a collective effort.
Having let slip a four point lead at the end of the hour, Cargin looked rattled at the start of extra time but once they went through the gears there only looked like one winner. Lámh Dhearg continued to press, counter, harass and push Cargin to their limits but the Erins Own men looked comfortable or as comfortable as they could have in such an environment. There was a composure that comes from experience and winning did enough to retain their crown.
Saturday’s replay was the perfect end to an incredible football championship. Cargin remain top dogs in the Saffron county while Lámh Dhearg did everything but win this and couldn’t have done anything more. A night to celebrate, maybe even tomorrow as well but Cargin are back to Corrigan in eight days’ time with Fermanagh champions, Derrygonnelly laying in wait.