Can Creggan make successful Ulster debut?

Ulster SFC Club championship

Corrigan Park Sunday 1-30pm

Kickham’s Creggan (Antrim) v Clann Eireann (Armagh)

Antrim champions Kickham’s Creggan make a first step into the unknown when they take on Clann Eireann of Armagh in the Ulster club SFC quarter-final at Corrigan Park on Sunday.

Creggan bridged a 67-year gap, lifting the Padraig McNamee Cup for the first time since 1954 with a 1-12 to 0-07 win over Aghagallon in the Antrim final at the same venue back on the 14th November and put the disappointment of recent final defeats behind them to climb the winner’s rostrum.

 The Staffordstown Road side were in control at the break with Matthews Rodgers, Kevin Small, Ruairi and Jamie McCann all chipping in to see them 0-07-0-02 ahead. 

Aghagallon were always chasing, however, they did keep the game alive until second half injury-time when substitute, Sam Maguire, capped his introduction with a goal to end Creggan’s long wait for Championship glory.

Creggan’s two previous final defeats came at the hands of neighbours, Erin’s Own Cargin but Gerard McNulty’s side got that monkey off their back when they came from behind to defeat the reigning champions in the semi-final at St. Enda’s.

McNulty, who was assistant to Kevin Madden at Creggan for two years before taking over the managers role, has brought his own style of management to the side and they have developed into a more expansive outfit.

He has introduced a number of new faces to the side with Ethan Carey-Small and Jamie McCann cementing starting places in defence and McCann in particular has been phenomenal, weighing in with vital scores from half-back.

Indeed their half back line of Aidan Maguire, Marty Johnston and McCann have rightly received rave notices and have been instrumental in the side’s success this year.

Oisin Kerr, in goals and Ricki Johnston at full back bring vast experience to what has been a solid defence with Odhran McLarnon dropping deep at times in a sweeper role and they held Aghagallon scoreless from play until 10 minutes from time.

Kevin Small and Conor McCann have formed a strong and mobile mid-field partnership while Tiernan McAteer, Matthew Rodgers and Ruairi McCann are always a threat in attack.

What of Clann Éireann ?

In one of the most remarkable Armagh senior football championship finals for many years, Lurgan side Clann Éireann staged a stunning comeback from a seemingly hopeless position to squeeze out their more illustrious opponents Crossmaglen at the Athletic Grounds.

With the sides having been deadlocked at 0-5 each at half-time, it was Crossmaglen, inspired by the O’Neill brothers and Cian McConville, who seized the initiative after the break to glide into a seemingly unassailable 0-11 to 0-5 lead.

But with ace marksman Conor Turbitt leading a spectacular Clann Éireann revival – he landed eight points in all – Rangers were rocked back on their heels when substitute Ruairí McDonald thundered a great drive to their net in the 49th minute.

At 0-12 to 1-9 the match was back in the melting pot but the sporting gods were to smile on Clann Éireann when another substitute Jack Conlon saw his harmless-looking speculative effort in the 59th minute graze the post and trickle over the line for the most unlikely of goals.

At 2-10 to 0-15 Clann Éireann were back in business and a further brace of Turbitt points saw them snatch the title to set up Saturday’s clash with the Kickham’s. There are a couple of Antrim connections with the Armagh side. Barry McCambridge, who wore no 3 in the final win over Crossmaglen is a son of John McCambridge from Cushendall and a nephew of Monty, Gaza and Michael McCambrdge, all of whom played county hurling for Antrim, and a first cousin of Cushendall and Antrim senior hurler Ryan McCambridge. Another local connection is that Gerry Fagan, who captained Clann Eireann to their 1963 county title before going on to become a legendry Ulster GAA official, started his teaching career in Cargan Primary School in Glenravel in 1948.

Gerard McNulty will not be shouting it from the rooftops but I’m sure he would have been surprised but happy with the result at the Athletic Grounds but at the same time well aware of the serious challenge Clann Eireann will pose on Sunday.

The astute McNulty will have done his homework on the Lurgan side with Turbitt marked down for special attention but most of his focus will have been on preparing his own side. The Kickham’s will have a big and noisy support behind them at Corrigan and if they can settle quickly into the game and produce anything near their best then there is no reason why they cannot win this one.

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