2020 Club Football review

Patrick McIlwaine takes a look back at the Antrim club season and the Creggan U21 tounament.

Early March and the Paddy McLarnon Cup at Creggan, which had been rescheduled because of the early start to the county season, got underway with a good St. Eunan’s Ballyshannon defeating Carrickmore and Carryduff beating neighbours St. Brigid’s in a real cliff hanger.

The Creggan club had left no stone unturned to ensure that their tournament went ahead with Premier Electrics on board and completed three of their quarter-finals on the same day with Clann Eireann of Armagh accounting comfortably with O’Rahilly’s Latton and the fourth quarter-final set for Ahoghill on the Monday night

St Eunan’s (Donegal) 1-16

An Charraig Mhór (Tyrone) 0-11

St Eunan’s Letterkenny and Tyrone champions Carrickmore battle it out in the opening round at the Creggan tournament.

St Eunan’s were explosive from the throw-in at Creggan this afternoon and brushed Carrickmore aside on their way to an Ulster U21 Paddy McLarnon Cup semi-final.

The Donegal side were three points up inside two minutes as the strong Loughshore breeze sucked the ball back towards Niall McKenna’s goal on each kick out.

Despite Carmen settling towards the end of the half, the Tír Chonaill men led by double scores at the break and continued in the same vein without wind advantage to seal an 8-point win.

Paddy McLarnon-Premier Electrics U21 Football club championship

Liam Tunney

St Brigid’s (Antrim) 0-11

Carryduff GAC (Down) 1-09

Belfast rivals Carryduff of Down and St Brigid’s of Antrim produced a classic battle for the second year in a row

Carryduff repeated last year’s one-point victory over local rivals St Brigid’s to seal a place in the quarter final of the Paddy McLarnon Cup.

If last year’s encounter was a rollercoaster, this one had more of a dodgems feel to it as the sides engaged in a battle of wills amid unforgiving conditions on the Loughshore.

Paddy McLarnon-Premier Electrics U21 club championship

By Liam Tunney

O’Rahilly’s GAC Latton (Monaghan) 0-05

Clann Éireann (Armagh) 1-13

Clann Éireann of Armagh accounted for Latton O’Rahilly’s of Monaghan in their quarter final

Clann Éireann recorded a comfortable victory over Latton to reach the semi-final of the Ulster U21 Paddy McLarnon Cup at a windswept Kickham’s Creggan on Sunday.

St Canice’s (Derry) v Enniskillen Gaels (Fermanagh) – Monday, Ahoghill, 7:30pm

St. Canice’s edged out the Fermanagh champions under the floodlights at Clooney but that was as far as the tournament got with the club issuing the following statement during the week as Covid-19 struck.

It is very regretful that we have to issue this postponement of the 2019/20 Premier Electrics Ulster U21 Club Football Tournament Semi-Finals scheduled for this Sunday. We have received the message below from Antrim County Board and take our responsibilities seriously with regard to players, families and wider communities.

We will continue to take advice from our Governing Bodies and will seek to get the games played at an appropriate future date.
Go raibh maith agaibh

Antrim Leauges make a brief appearance

Division 3 of the ACFL had commenced the previous Sunday with Rasharkin defeating St. Patrick’s Lisburn by 2-8 to 2-7 in a game that looked like having a big impact on the season, both sides having been relegated from Division 2 at the end of the 2019 season.

The following Sunday the men from Dreen travelled to Pearses and were again triumphant, beating the North Belfast side by two points while St. Patrick’s suffered a surprising defeat at home to St. Agnes.

There was a round of games in division 1 and division 2 the same weekend but there would not be another ball kicked in earnest until Sunday the 19th of July as the dreaded Covid virus struck with a vengeance.

Like everyone else, we at the Saffron Gael found ourselves facing a dilemma. Would or could we continuing publishing or should we shut down until games commenced sometime in the future?

It didn’t take long to decide. Antrim Gaels needed something to keep them going during these difficult times so we put our heads together and came up with a number of ideas that were to prove very popular.

We asked clubs to select their best ever football and hurling 15 and the response was amazing with nearly every club responding. We carried features on championship successes of the past and again received a very positive response from the clubs and we are very grateful to all those who took time to send us that information.

Championship Round Robin lifts the spirits again

There is only so much looking back you can do however and it was like a child in a sweet shop I made the journey to Portglenone on the 17th July for a Reserve Championship game between the Casement’s and visitors St. Enda’s and the following Saturday to Dreen for a Division 2 Minor game between Rasharkin and Creggan.

The Antrim leagues had been re-launched in a group stage format which at completion would guarantee the top two sides a championship quarter final spot. The reduced fixture format worked well and those responsible for the making of the fixtures and ensuring their smooth running deserve great credit. 

There was a provision that there would be no promotion-relegation at the end of the season but the fact that the leagues would have a bearing on championship places meant that the majority of these games were played at real championship fervour and when the league sections were completed it was down to championship knockout.

In the Senior Football Championship Creggan and Portglenone emerged from a Group 1 which included St. Mary’s Ahoghill and produced some exciting games with Ahoghill starting brightly with a home win over Portglenone. The Casement’s looked on their way out when they lost their second game at home to Creggan but staged a great recovery to beat Creggan away and Ahoghill at home with Creggan’s emphatic win over Ahoghill in the final game ensuring that they topped the group.

In a Group 2 which also included three teams it was Lamh Dhearg who set the pace with three wins but with Rossa drawing with St. John’s at Rossa Park and again at Corrigan it was down to score difference with Rossa joining Lamh Dhearg in the quarter-finals.

Group 3 again provided a number of tight games but it was reigning champions, Erin’s Own Cargin who set the pace, winning all their games to top the group with an improving St. Mary’s Aghagallon joining them after good wins over St. Brigid’s and St. James Aldergrove.

In Group 4 it was St. Gall’s who edged out St. Enda’s on a head to head with both sides finishing on four points from three games. St. Enda’s were in the driving seat when they defeated St. Gall’s in the opening game at Milltown but St. Gall’s travelled to Hightown in round 2 and reversed the result. Gort na Mona were the other side in the group but lost the two games they played.

It was down to the quarter-finals now and straight knockout with holders Cargin proving too strong for Rossa at Clooney and Portglenone emerging in a real cliff hanger against St. Gall’s, which ended in near darkness at Dunsilly. The sides finished all square in a game that swung too and fro and it took penalties in the end to separate the sides.

 Lamh Dhearg edged out Aghagallon in another tight one at Corrigan while Creggan had too much for St. Enda’s in the fourth quarter-final with Dunsilly again the venue with the semi-finals throwing up a couple of very tasty pairings.

St. Enda’s was the venue for a repeat of the 2019 final where Cargin faced Lamh Dhearg while Creggan and Portglenone met for the third time in the second semi-final at Ahoghill.

Cargin edge out Lamhs in thriller

Lámh Dhearg 1-13-3-09 Cargin

Second-half goals from Ronan Gribbin and Pat Shivers ensured that Cargin put behind them an indifferent opening-half as the county champions survived a frenzied finish to book a place in the decider for the third successive season after a 3-09-1-13 win over Lámh Dhearg at Hightown this afternoon.

Lámh Dhearg were the dominant team in the opening half and bounced back from the concession of an early penalty- converted by Tomas McCann to lead 0-06-1-02 at the break.

But Cargin moved back in front through Gribbin and a third goal from Pat Shivers gave them breathing space.

A sweet strike from Paddy Cunningham ensured it was game-on again but tempers frayed as the clock ticked down with Cargin duo Michael McCann and Martin Kane being dismissed along with Lámh Dhearg captain Michael Herron.

The Toome men used their experience to see out time and advance to face near neighbours Creggan in a repeat of the 2018 final.

Ruiairi McCann goal turned the game in Creggan’s favour

Creggan 2-9 Portglenone 1-7

A goal from Ruairi McCann, 20 minutes into the second half turned this Senior Football Championship semi-final on its head as Kickham’s Creggan came with a late run to defeat Casement’s Portglenone at Clooney today.

With Casement’s holding a slender one point lead but with the wind behind them the Bannsider’s appeared to be gaining control but Creggan were awarded a free about 40 meters from the Portglenone goal and Ruairi McCann stepped up to take the resulting kick.

The Creggan number 10 had been in great form throughout the contest and had already scored six points(4 frees) so when he stepped up to take this one he looked set to send over the equaliser but his shot dipped at the last minute and ended in the corner of Ryan O’Neill’s net.

Portglenone looked stunned and before they could gather their thoughts and regroup Conor Small raced through for a second goal, minutes after being introduced as a sub and that was that as Creggan took control in the closing stages.

And so it was down to a second final in three years between neighbours and deadly rivals, Cargin and Creggan and there was a feeling in some quarters that Creggan had closed the gap on the champions since that easy forgettable 2018 decider which finished 0-5 to 0-4.

Kelly Park Portglenone was the venue for the final with a limited crowd permitted due to the continuing Coved restrictions and on an immaculate surface these sides served up an excellent final. If the 2018 final was easy forgettable then this one turned out to be an excellent decider and it took extra time to separate the sides.

Antrim Senior Football Championship (final)

Jamie Gribben celebrates after Ciaran Close’s goal sealed Cargin’s win in a classic final

Erin’s Own Cargin 1-22 Kickham’s Creggan 1-19 (aet)

When these two Loughshore neighbours met in the 2018 final it was a low scoring affair that was criticised by the media for its poor standard. However the 2020 version was a completely different matter as both team produced top class displays on a perfect surface at Portglenone as they produced a high scoring thriller that took extra time to decide.

‘The old dog for the hard road’, is the old adage and it certainly rang true in the final of a thrill a minute Antrim senior football championship decider at Kelly Park, as  a 72nd minute goal from Kieran Close proved the turning point in an absorbing contest.

The nimble 36 year old fired home from close range after being placed in the clear by Jimmy Gribbin to put a bit of daylight between the sides for the first time since the 7th minute.

Nothing had separated the near neighbours in an absorbing sixty minutes of football which thrilled the restricted attendance with the side’s level on six occasions.

A Tomas McCann point near the end of normal time looked to have ensured another title for the Toome men but Ruairi McCann replied at the other end to make it 0-16 to 0-16 and send the game into extra time.

Creggan led at the end of the first extra ten minutes as points from replacements, Paddy Coey and David Mc Guckin ensured a one point advantage but Mark Kelly and Jamie Gribbin combined to set up Kieran Close who finished to the net in style to put his side in the driving seat.

Further scores from Close, Pat Shivers, and Kevin ‘Kobo’ O’ Boyle saw Cargin move five in front but the Kickham’s replied with a late goal from replacement Odhran McLarnon to keep their fading hopes alive.

Michael McCann rose to collect the resultant kick out and send Kevin O’ Boyle on his way to raise white at the other end to ensure that there would be no way back for the gallant Creggan.

Cathal McOscar Photography

Cargin’s win completed a three in a row for the Toome side and a double double with their minors collecting their title with a win over St. Brigid’s at Dunsilly the previous day, a repeat of the 2019 final where the Toome lads defeated the South Antrim side at Corrigan.

Later in the week we will take a look at the Junior and Intermediate Championship and (ironically) as we head back into lockdown we will take another look at our county footballers as they completed their league and championship season for 2020.

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