Carey v Creggan looks too tight to call

Andersonstown SC IHC Final

Kickham’s Creggan v Cathaoir an Ri

Dunsilly 3.00pm Saturday

This Saturday’s Andersonstown SC Intermediate Hurling championship final between Kickham’s Creggan and Cathaoir an Ri at Dunsilly throws together an intriguing pairing but one that few punters would have predicted in the week leading up to the semi-finals.

Predicting winners in this competition is never easy. Neither of Saturday’s finalists topped their group and the Carey side in particular qualified the hard way for the decider but never the less are there on merit and will feel they can complete the job at Dunsilly.

The Ballyvoy men finished second to Cloney Gaels in Group 1, losing to the Ahoghill men in Ballyvoy and then drawing with Glenariffe Oisin at the same venue which left them needing to win by a big margin in their rearranged final game against Gort na Mona.

Carey Faughs proved too strong for a makeshift Gort na Móna when the sides met at the Dub to claim that final berth. Going into the game the North Antrim side had to win by a margin of at least 25 points, if not, it would mean that Glenariffe would qualify for a semi-final meeting with Cushendun.

In the end the North Antrim side had achieved that target by the half way stage as they led 4-17 to 0-2, and a further 3-12 in the second half ensured that the Faughs had reached their semi-final meeting with the Emmet’s with something to spare.

Conor McBride top scored for Cathaoir an Ri with 3-10 with Caolan McCaughan 2-4, James ‘Rocket’ Black 2-1 and Patrick Gillan 0-6 leading the scoring fest. They had little time to celebrate however with their meeting with neighbours Cushendun scheduled for the same weekend.

Despite that big win at the Dub, Carey went into that semi-final with Cushendun as underdogs. The Emmet’s had raced through Group 2 of the qualifiers unbeaten, including a win over Kickham’s Creggan and were expected to progress to the final.

The Ballyvoy side failed to read the scrip however and booked their place in the final when they outplayed and outscored pre match favourites Cushendun in impressive fashion. Fresh from their 43 point hammering of Gort na Móna, the Ballyvoy men gave another faultless display to secure their place in the final.

The Faughs won the toss and elected to play with the aid of the diagonal breeze and their decision was soon justified as they flew from the traps. Conlaoth ‘Loaf’ McNeill got the first score of the game for Cushendun with a fantastic point from inside his own half, but the next ten minutes was all Carey as they hit 1-5 without reply, the goal brilliantly taken by Patrick Gillan while the points all came from different players, James McCouaig, Caolan McCaughan, James Rocket Black, Conor McBride and Gillan to move 1-5 to 0-1 ahead.

Cathaoir an Ri went on to lead 2-12 to 0-6 at half time and despite playing against the wind in the second half they ran out convincing winners by an 11 point margin to set up a final meeting with the Kickham’s.

Carey had scorers all over the field against the Cushendun men with McBride, Gillan, Black and Shea Hunter leading the way and they will be hoping for a similar spread of scores on Saturday in a repeat of the 2015 final.

Like Saturday’s opponents, Kickham’s journey to the final was not straight forward but less dramatic than that of Saturday’s opponents. They recorded a number of excellent results in Group 2 of the qualifiers, scoring freely as they defeating Sarsfield’s 3-19 to 1-15 and St. Brighid’s Cloughmills 1-23 to 1-8 before losing by four points to Emmet’s in Cushendun.

Going into the final round of games we had three teams in contention for the two qualifying places but Cushendun’s win at the Bear Pit left the score difference calculations unnecessary. The Kickham’s were in action against St. Paul’s at the same time as the Sarsfield’s v Emmet’s game and were ensuring that whatever way that result was going they would be masters of their own destiny.

Creggan recorded a facile 5-22 to 0-13 win against a St. Paul’s side who had nothing to play for to qualify for a semi-final place against a Cloney Gaels side, who like Emmet’s had impressed during the Group stages and were slight favourites going into that semi-final at Whitehill.

The Cloney Gaels, Kickham’s semi-final was a much tighter affair and saw fortunes swing to and fro during a compelling game of hurling that went to extra time and had the large crowd on their toes until the final whistle.

Kevin Rice got in for a Creggan goal after 30 seconds and Rice, Morgan Nelson and Oran McCann added points as Creggan trailed 1-6 to 0-10 at half time.

Morgan Nelson and county captain, Conor McCann added second half goals and a fine exhibition of free taking from Oran McCann kept Creggan in touch throughout the second half as fortunes favoured one and then the other side.

The sides couldn’t be separated during an enthralling 60 plus minutes of hurling but when Cloney Gaels hit the first three scores in extra time the Ahoghill side looked to be taking control.

Kickham’s Creggan came from a point down at half time however to hit 8 unanswered second half points with a devastating scoring performance and claim a place in the final and like their opponents, will be looking forward to Saturday’s final at Dunsilly.

Creggan edged out Carey in that 2015 final and the Faughs carry an unwanted record into Saturday’s decider having lost in the 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019 finals and just how heavily that will weigh on their minds going into Saturday’s decider remains to be seen.

That was Creggan’s last and only Intermediate success and they went on to win Ulster that year though they reached the 2018 decider where they lost to St. Gall’s.

Both sides will be hoping to put that barren spell behind them and both have shown incredible resilience this year to reach Saturday’s final. Both are strong physical sides and we could well be in a far a war of attrition with no quarter asked or given.

Cathaoir an Ri will look to James ‘Rocket’ Black, Conor McBride, Caolan McCaughan and Patrick Gillan for scores while Cathal McAuley, Sean McBride, Peadar McBride and James McCouaig will hope to shut up shop at the other end and contain the Creggan attacking threat.

Aidan Maguire, Thomas McCann, Danaan O’Hara and Teddy McKeown are the men who can make life difficult for the Faughs attack while Ruairi McCann at midfield and Oran McCann, Kevin Rice, Morgan Nelson and Conor McCann carry a serious scoring threat.

I’m going to sit on the fence on this one as my predictions to date haven’t been too good but I expect this to be a full blooded championship clash between two strong and talented sides and the one who wants it most will take the title.

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