Creggan Climb their Everest

Brendan McTaggart reports from Corrigan Park as Creggan claim the senior football championship putting an end to a 67 year wait…

There’s a saying we’ve all heard in our time, you’re not entitled to a championship medal.  You earn them.  Creggan have earned their right to finally be called Antrim senior football champions.

They’ve made the journey to the decider on three of the last four years.  On Sunday, it was third time lucky for the Kickhams men as they put an end to their bridesmaid tag ending a wait of 67 years for another senior championship.  

With a packed Corrigan Park, both clubs brought the noise.  There can’t have been many left in the place they call home as the communities of Creggan and Aghagallon congregated at the Whiterock Road bringing a mix of smoke bombs and partisan support, everything a county final deserves.

To call it a defensive masterclass would do their attacking play a disservice but they restricted Aghagallon to just one point from play, Adam Loughran splitting the uprights in the 50th minute.  The Johnston brothers superb at the heart of their defence but it was how they cut out the attacking threats more by positional sense than out and out defending.  The St Mary’s men couldn’t deliver quick ball into their forwards and Creggan turned the screw to force turnovers and increase pressure on an overworked Aghagallon defence.  A testament to the coaching of Gerard McNulty and his team, the game was played exactly how he would have planned with his analysis and meticulous planning beforehand being emanated onto the Corrigan Park turf.

Odhran McLarnon covered every square inch of turf at Corrigan Park, providing an attacking outlet as they probed the St Mary’s defence with a mix of strong running off the shoulder, patience and precision.  Matthew Rodgers with three first half points while a brace of frees from Ruairi McCann, one from Jamie McCann and a white flag from Kevin Small was only answered to by scores from Luke Mulholland (’45) and Gareth Magee (free).  Creggan were full value for their five point half time lead and but for the weather conditions leading to some handling errors when in the final third, it could have been more.  Aghagallon struggled to get any attacking impetus with their first score coming in the 14th minute such was the dominance of the Kickhams in midfield and half back.

But as Aghagallon have shown in 2021, they are a second half team.  If they could get the right delivery into Gareth Magee or Ruairi McCann anything was possible.  They certainly upped their intensity levels in the second half and brought greater physicality to the final than they showed in the opening 30 minutes.  With Magee’s accuracy from frees keeping them in touch, Adam Loughran was always a threat.  He became more prominent as Aghagallon went in search for a championship lifeline.  

They managed to create half chances but Ruairi McCann and Jack Lenehan were both denied by a brilliant Creggan defence.  Four points separated the sides going into injury time when Creggan finally breathed a collective sigh of relief.  With St Mary’s chasing the game and throwing caution to the wind, Luke Mulholland left his goal keeping position to create an extra body in midfield.  The ball went loose and Creggan worked the ball to Sam Maguire who stood free behind the Aghagallon defence and with the simplest of tasks to hammer the game defining, if not championship confirming goal.  The man with the most famous name in all of gaelic football cemented his name into Creggan folklore by scoring the only goal of the game with his first touch having just come off the bench moments earlier.

The outpouring of emotion when referee Colm McDonald called for an end to the decider was euphoric. Generation defining.  Young faces painted and draped in green and gold running onto the pitch to meet their heroes.  Those a little older with tears in their eyes.  Selfies, family photographs, flashes from camera’s sparking into the darkened late Autumn sky of west Belfast.  The Kickhams family made the most of the occasion with the cold air and mizzling rain meaning little to anyone looking to make their own memory of this monumental day for Creggan.  It was easy to see what this meant to Creggan club.  Any championship wins are special, when they’ve come as hard as they have for Creggan, it adds a little more.  It’s fair to say they are treasuring this day of all days.

Harry Bateson, who was on the last Creggan team to win the championship back in 1954 gets his hands on the cup once again as he and Jamie McCann share the trophy

There is no more talk of 67 years or droughts allowed in the Staffordstown Road, they look to the future and an Ulster Club championship date with Clan Eireann of Armagh. The McNamee Cup remains in the parish of Duneane, but he wears a band of gold along with green in 2021.

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