Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship
Creggan v Portglenone at Ahoghill – Throw-in 1pm
By Paul McIntyre
The meeting of Creggan and Portglenone brings together two sides that have knocked on the door of the winner’s enclosure in recent years but are still yet to dine at the top table. Creggan came agonisingly close two years ago when they fell to neighbours Cargin by the narrowest of margins while the Casements have to go back to 2009 to their last final, which ended in a crushing defeat as St Galls marched their way to All-Ireland glory.
These sides are no strangers to each other as they face off for the third time in this year’s championship. Creggan recorded a three-point win at Kelly Park before Portglenone got one over their South-West rivals in their final group game.
It’s been a testing week to say the least for Casements manager Barry Dillon. After their gruelling encounter with St Galls on Tuesday night, he now must wait on the Friday evenings reserve clash with Lamh Dhearg before finalising his matchday squad.
“After the penalties I looked around the field and it was like a scene from Platoon. Where do we start? I asked myself” said the Magherafelt native before adding that the week has seen his players getting rub downs and physio. It’s a battle that has also left him without the services of three key players. Both Niall McKeever (torn calf) and Dermot McAleese (jaw) left the fray in the first half before Oisín Doherty (knee) also retired injured early against St Galls. Players that would be a massive loss to any team.
It’s a quick turnaround and Dillon would’ve maybe liked the semi-finals pushed back another few days but he admits after the year that it’s been that it’s “just brilliant to be playing football again”.
On Saturday’s opponents Dillon has the Loughshore side favourites explaining that “they are further down the road than ourselves in terms of development. Creggan are laced with quality and have the experience of a recent county final as well as winning leagues and O’Cahan Cups” before adding that “they would maybe be physically stronger but we’ll still turn up and give a good account of ourselves.”
In their two group games only three points and two points separated the sides at the final whistle and Dillon expects another tight tussle in Ahoghill. “Games take on a life of their own and the first two games were effected badly by the weather with a storm making good football very difficult in the second fixture but this is knockout football which is a totally different game”.
While Portglenone have never lifted the Padraig McNamee Cup, you have to go way back to 1954 for the last time Creggan Kickhams were Antrim kingpins and Gerard McNulty is the man trusted with the Kickhams latest tilt at championship glory, and on Sunday’s showing against his own club, Naomh Eánna, the signs are promising.
Strong and well organised at the back with both Ricky and Marty Johnston to the fore, dominant in midfield while hard working and industrious up top, could this be the year when they eventually benefit from previous underage success?
When ask before Tuesday’s Portglenone v St Gall’s quarter final who he would like to meet in the semis there was no doubt in McNulty’s mind
“We’d like another wee nip at Portglenone” he quipped without batting an eyelid before adding “we had two great battles with them and to be fair they are well drilled; they’re a good side and they know they’re system works; suits them you know. We played them and we didn’t have the same personnel, so look, I would like to meet them again.”