Do you have to lose one to win one?

Northern Switchgear SFC Final Preview

St. Mary’s Aghagallon v Kickham’s Creggan

By Paddy McIlwaine

The old adage, ‘you have to lose one to win one’ has been well documented in the GAA past and if that is the case then Kickham’s Creggan’s name is already on the SFC Cup. Kickham’s were beaten narrowly in the 2018 and 2020 finals to nearest neighbours and deadliest rivals, Erin’s Own Cargin on both occasions so from that point of view they have already accomplished the first part of the equation.

As we all know by now, matters in football as in life are not that simple and St. Mary’s Aghagallon are unlikely to be too fazed by those statistics and are likely to relish the underdog tag as they head to Corrigan Park this Sunday.

Kickham’s Creggan will start this Sunday’s final as favourites and their semi-final win over Erin’s Own, Cargin at St. Enda’s suggests that the favourites tag is there on merit. Having lost to their neighbours and reigning champions in the 2018 and 2020 finals their strong second half performance at Hightown suggests that Creggan have learned from those earlier defeats and are in rude health going into Sunday’s final.

They are a strong side with a good blend of youth and experience with Oisin Kerr in goals, Ricky and Martin Johnston, Kevin Small and Ruairi McCann all having represented Antrim at Senior level while Ethan Carey Small, Matthew Rogers and Jamie McCann are amongst the more recent additions to the side and they have all been excellent this year.

Jamie McCann has been a revelation at left half back and has contributed handsomely on the scoreboard while Ruairi McCann provides a real threat in attack. County hurling captain, Conor McCann forms a formidable mid-field partnership with Kevin Small and against Cargin they were instrumental in wrestling the title from the champions.

Aghagallon have an excellent keeper themselves in Luke Mulholland who is the present Antrim custodian and collected a division 4 National League medal with the Saffron’s this year while Eunan Walsh, Ruairi McCann and Adam Loughran were all part of that Antrim panel.

David McAlarnon made a return to the side this year to replace the unavailable Oisin Lenehan at mid-field and has carried on where he had left off with consistent performances which have played a big part in his side’s success this year.

St. Mary’s won their first U21 championship back in 2016 and many of that team form the backbone of Sunday’s side while seven of the panel were on the St. Ronan’s Lurgan side who won the McCrory and Hogan Cups in 2018 so the side is unlikely to be fazed by Sunday’s final.

Path to the final

Creggan enjoyed a much easier passage through the group stages than their opponents on Sunday. They were drawn in a group of three with St. Gall’s and Gort na Mona and recorded fairly comfortable home and away victories over the Milltown Row side.

Gort na Mona fell 0-3 to 0-9 to the Kickham’s at Enright Park and were unable to field for the away fixture owing to Covid in the Gort’s camp.

Creggan went on to defeat St. John’s by 1-8 to 0-8 at Hightown in the quarter-final before coming strong in the second half to beat a fancied Cargin in the semi-final.

In both games the Staffordstown Road side have shown great resilience rather than being spectacular but these wins will surely have cemented their belief that their name is on this year’s championship cup.

Aghagallon’s path through group 3 was a much more precarious journey. They travelled to Lamh Dhearg for their opening game and lost by a point in a high scoring and very entertaining encounter.

Wins at home to Aldergrove and a very important away win to St. Enda’s put them right back in the frame but defeat to the Hannastown side at Pairc Na Gael on day four seemed to have put their chances of qualification very much in jeopardy.

An away win to Aldergrove left the final game between Aghagallon and St. Enda’s, a winner takes all affair and in another tight encounter St. Mary’s emerged as two point winners to qualify in second place to Lamh Dhearg and set up a quarter-final meeting with St. Brigid’s.

Second half goals from Ruairi McCann and Eunan Walsh were enough to see St. Mary’s through to a first semi-final and Walsh was again the man on target as Aghagallon emerged victorious in a well-documented marathon semi-final over Portglenone.

So Creggan will probably start tomorrow’s final as the bookies favourites and logic dictates that their greater experience and superior physicality will be enough to get them over the line.

Those two recent final defeats to Cargin adds weight to the notion that ‘you have to lose one to win one’ but Aghagallon have shown an ability to plunder goals throughout the championship and if Eunan Walsh, Ruairi McCann and Gareth Magee are on top of their game and if Adam Loughran is fit to start then St. Mary’s won’t be too far away.

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