Northern Switchgear Antrim SFC Final preview
Erin’s Own Cargin (Holders) v Kickham’s Creggan
By Paddy McIlwaine
The meeting of Erin’s Own Cargin and Kickham’s Creggan in this Sunday’s Senior Football championship final brings together two side with vastly contrasting records in this competition. The rivalry between these neighbouring clubs is as keen as it is anywhere in the county or indeed in Ireland but their fortunes in recent years couldn’t be much different.
Erin’s Own Cargin are the reigning county champions and are going for three titles in a row while we have to go back to 1954 to find the last time that their parish neighbours lifted the Senior Football championship title.
That was the last time the cup resided on the Staffordstown Road with their only other title coming back in 1943 so 66 years without success is a long time for a proud club who have been performing well in division 1 of the Antrim leagues and have knocked at the championship door for quite a while but as yet have failed to gain access.
Two years ago Creggan did reach the final and a meeting with Sunday’s opponents and many felt that the long wait for success was over but in a cagey, low scoring final it was Erin’s Own who emerged winners 0-5 to 0-4.
That was in 2018 and Cargin followed that success up with a win over Lamh Dhearg, after a replay in last year’s final and are aiming for a first ever three in a row for the club at Kelly Park on Sunday. The Toome side will start as firm favourites and have been the team to beat in recent years.
Cargin’s first championship success came back in 1974 but it was a further 21 years before they collected their second title in 1995 and their third four years later in 1999. They followed that success up with another win in 2000 but were not awarded that title until 2005 following an unseemly brawl at the end of that game against St. Paul’s.
2000 might have heralded a period of success for the Toome side but the fallout from that suspension coupled with the emergence of St. Gall’s as the dominant force in Antrim meant it would be another six years before Cargin would lift the Padraig McNamee Cup again.
Their win in 2006 interrupted a period of dominance for the Milltown side which lasted from 2001 to 2014 with St. Gall’s the team that the Toome side beat in that 2006 final. Cargin brought that winning run to an end again when they defeated Lamh Dhearg in the 2015 final and were winners again in 2016 when they beat St. Gall’s during a very successful period under the management of John Brennan.
Brennan was still at the helm when Cargin lost to St. John’s in the 2017 semi-final and defeat heralded his departure with former Derry All Ireland winner, Damian Cassidy taking over managerial duties for the 2018 campaign.
Cassidy led his side to success in 2018 and again in 2019 and this year will be hoping to guide them to an unprecedented three in a row but Creggan will be determined to put paid to that notion and will be quietly confident that they can do just that.
A look at the respective records of both sides would suggest that they go into Sunday’s final as rank outsiders however. Their championship success in 1943 and again in 1954 makes bleak reading compared to the record of Sunday’s opponents but records are made to be broken.
Former Antrim player, Kevin Madden held the managerial reigns at Creggan in a period that saw them lose that 2018 final but his side recorded an O’Cahan Cup victory over Cargin and won a league title in the same year.
Madden has moved on to become part of Micky Harte’s backroom team in Tyrone with his assistant Gerard McNulty taking over the managerial reigns at Creggan so there has been continuity at the club and that has been important.
The St. Enda’s man has tweaked the side but by in large has stuck to a well-tested formula and they have been impressive this year. Creggan finished top of a Group 1 that included south west rivals, Portglenone and Ahoghill. They defeated Portglenone at Sunday’s venue before losing to the same opponents on the Staffordstown Road but a big win in their final game away to Ahoghill ensured that they finished as group winners.
McNulty found himself in the unenviable position of planning a win over his own club, St. Enda’s in the quarter-final at Dunsilly but went about his task in his own professional manner with Creggan emerging fairly convincing winners over the former All Ireland Intermediate championship finalists.
That win set up a third meeting of the season with Casement’s Portglenone in the semi-final, the only team to have beaten them this year and they looked in trouble with the Bannsider’s holding a slender lead midway through the second half.
Good fortune favoured them however when Ruairi McCann’s free from 30 yards out dipped to the corner of the net and before the Casement’s could regroup, Conor Small raced through for a second goal with virtually his first touch of the ball and that was that.
Cargin finished their Group 3 campaign unbeaten and with maximum points. In a group that included St. Mary’s Aghagallon, St. Brigid’s and St. James’ Aldergrove they were seldom pushed though Aghagallon and St. Brigid’s both led for a period in Toome but were caught by a very efficient Cargin side.
O’Donovan Rossa were their opponents in the quarter-final in Ahoghill but the Jerimiah’s failed to test the reigning champions who ran out convincing winners to set up a semi-final meeting with old adversaries, Lamh Dhearg at Hightown.
Meetings between these two sides have been keenly contested affairs in recent years with Cargin needing a replay to beat the Hannastown side in the 2019 final and this one was little different. Lamh Dhearg set the early pace with Paddy Cunningham in fine form but a goal from the penalty spot from Tomas McCann settled the reigning champions.
They still trailed at half time but a strong second half performance and goals from youngsters, Ronan Gribbin and Pat Shivers saw them emerge 3-9 1-13 winners in a bad tempered second half that saw three players sent off.
WHO WILL PLAY?
Neither side are likely to show too many changes from the sides that lined out in their respective semi-finals. John McNabb started in goals against Lamh Dhearg and has been their regular number 1 for quite a number of years while Justin Crozier is a solid and reliable full-back with a flair for attacking if the opportunity arises.
Against Lamh Dhearg he was flanked by experienced pair, Kevin O’Boyle and Marty Kane to form a very experienced full-back line, all three former county players. Damian Cassidy has introduced a number of youngsters to his side this year with Ronan Gribbin staking a strong claim for a place in Sunday’s final with a goal against Lamh Dhearg from right-half-back while James Laverty and David Johnston could complete the half-back line.
Kevin McShane is a strong and combative mid-fielder where he was partnered recently by Michael McCann who remains the man who pulls the strings for Cargin. McCann has been like a good whiskey, he gets better with age.
Again in attack, Cargin have relied on some of their young emerging stars for scores though Jimmy Gribbin, Ciaran Bradley and Pat Shivers have been around for a few years but they have all been impressive this year with Shivers outstanding against the Hannastown side in the semi-final.
The tall rangy 19 year old scored 1-4 at Hightown and that marks him out as a player to watch while Tomas McCann can be a real handful for any defence on his day. Paul McCann and John Carron completed a very efficient attack while Michael Magill, Sean O’Neill, Enda McGroggan and Gerard McCann will all be hoping to get the nod for a starting place.
WHAT OF CREGGAN?
Like Cargin, Creggan have a good mix of youth and experience and I wouldn’t expect their side to show too many changes from the one that performed so well against St. Enda’s and Portglenone. Oisin Kerr has held the goalkeeping jersey for quite a while and has been a reliable number 1 while in front of him Ricky Johnston is likely to be flanked by Aidan Maguire and Eunan McAteer.
Marty Johnston brings a lot of experience at centre half while Jamie McCann came into the side as a substitute against St. Enda’s and retained his place against Portglenone in the semi-final. McCann is strong and combative and could complete a strong half-back line with Sam Maguire on the other flank.
At mid-field Conor McCann and Kevin Rice are a formidable combination while Ruairi McCann has been in excellent form in attack this year and his free taking could be vital while Kevin Small, Fintan Burke, Tiernan McAteer and Paddy Coey are all in the mix for a starting spot in attack.
Conor Og McCann captains the side and is likely to continue in the role of sweeper while manager McNulty could have an ace in his pack with Conor Small coming on in the last two games as a substitute as he makes full recovery from injury and scoring important goals in both games.
WHO WILL WIN?
Erin’s Own Cargin will start Sunday’s final as strong favourites and rightly so but the role of underdogs will suit the Kickham’s and they are unlikely to be overawed by their opponents reputation.
There are likely to be individual battles all over the field and the mid-field duel between Michael McCann and Kevin McShane for Cargin and Conor McCann and Kevin Rice for Creggan could be an important factor in the outcome of the game.
As always scores will be important and hopefully both sides will come out and have a go and we will not be treated to the ultra-defensive final that we witnessed two years ago. Both sides have players capable of getting vital scores on the big occasion with Tomas McCann and Pat Shivers for Cargin and Ruairi McCann and Conor Small for Creggan potential match winners.
As I’ve already said Cargin will start as strong favourites and should edge Sunday’s final but local derby’s can be hard to call and if the KIckham’s can ride the early storm and hang in there then they might not be too far away at the end and the 66 year wait could be over.