Review of the Antrim Football Championships in 2021
The Antrim football championships got under way in all three grades with the Senior Championship divided into four qualifying groups and the Intermediate and Junior into two. Holders Cargin were going for four in a row and when they recorded a facile victory over neighbours Moneyglass in the opening game in Toome all appeared to be going to plan.
Cargin were unbeaten going into the last day of the qualifiers in a group that included Rossa, St. John’s and St. Ergnat’s but lost their final game of the series to the Johnnies in Toome, a result that saw the Whiterock men pip Rossa for second place in the group.
In group 2 Casement’s Poretglenone looked to have put themselves in a strong position with a resounding victory over St. Brigid’s in Portglenone on day one but in a group of just three teams, which included St. Mary’s Ahoghill, there would be a few twists and turns.
The Cloney men threw the group wide open when they defeated their deadliest rivals in the home leg in Ahoghill with St. Brigid’s recovering to top the group with home wins over Portglenone and Ahoghill and Casement’s joining them in the knockout stages when they gained revenge over Ahoghill at Kelly Park on the final day of the qualifiers.
Group 3 contained four sides, Lamh Dhearg, St. Mary’s Aghagallon, St. Enda’s and St. James Aldergrove and produced some excellent contests with the Hannastown side toping the table and St. Mary’s Aghagallon recovering from an indifferent league campaign to join them in second place with home and away wins over St. Enda’s.
Kickham’s Creggan hadn’t won a senior championship for 67 years but under the management of Gerard McNulty they were determined to put recent final defeats behind them and they breezed through a group 4 that included St. Gall’s and Gort na Mona unbeaten with the Enright Park men unable to field for the final game due to Covid.
And so it was on to the quarter-finals and holders Cargin continued to set the pace when they brushed aside the challenge of former All Ireland club champions St Gall’s to reach the semi-finals at Hightown.
The Toome men dominated from start to finish and opened account through a Jamie Gribbin point and when Paudie McLaughlin added a goal a minute later they never looked back. The impressive Paudie McLaughlin grabbed a second major before the first water break to aid Cargin to a 2-04 to 0-02 lead as they dominated the central zone with Kevin McShane and Pat Shivers on top and they moved well clear 2-08 to 0-04 at the short whistle.
A third goal from the impressive Tomas McCann saw the Toome side run out convincing 3-9 to 0-4 winners over a St. Gall’s side who had no answer to the power and pace of the reigning champions and it would take something special to deny them a fourth title in a row.
Their opponents in the semi-final would come from Creggan’s meeting with St. John’s at St. Enda’s and the Kickham’s were pushed all the way by a determined ‘Johnnies’ side. In the end Oisin Kerr’s save from Conor Johnston’s goal bound shot in the 59th minute helped Creggan set up a semi-final meeting with holders and neighbours Cargin in the semi-final.
Kerr got down to his right to keep out Johnston’s powerful drive as the Johnnies threw their lot at the Creggan goal as time ticked away, and from the rebound, the Kickham’s managed to clear the ball to safety and hold on to fight another day.
Goal chances were at a premium throughout the contest and the game was ultimately decided by Jamie McCann’s effort in the 42nd minute.
Earlier in the day Portglenone had produced a splendid performance to beat a fancied Lamh Dhearg at Dunsilly. Portglenone overturned a four-point deficit at half-time to claim a place in the semi-final with a 5-08-3-08 win over the Hannastown men.
Michael Hagan’s second goal of the game had levelled for the Bannsiders midway through the second half and they kicked on with further strikes through Paddy Kelly and Aidan McAleese to return to the county semi-final for a third year running.
The fourth quarter-final featured St. Mary’s Aghagallon and St. Brigid’s at Dunsilly with St. Brigid’s favourites in some punters eyes by virtue of topping their qualifying group but they came up against a St. Mary’s side who appeared to have peaked just at the right time.
Goals from Ruairi McCann in the 1st minute of the second half and another from Eunan Walsh, six minutes from the end proved the difference as Aghagallon’s more direct approach proved the difference.
Ruairi McCann struck the game’s opening goal when he palmed to the net just 30 seconds after the restart and then Eunan Walsh hammered home a superb second six minutes from time and it was to prove the killer blow.
Kickham’s Creggan 0-16 Erin’s Own Cargin 2-07
Kickham’s Creggan defied the odds when they came from off the pace to gain a place in the final of the senior championship to end the three year reign of their near neighbours and defending champions, Erin’s Own Cargin before a big attendance at Hightown.
Title holders Cargin were on a mission to gain a fourth successive title and nipped smartly out of the start traps and a 4th minute Pat Shivers goal and a couple of points from Tomas McCann gave them the best possible start to proceedings.
The Kickham’s open their account through Conor McCann after nine minutes and although they had closed the gap on their neighbours at the first water break, a 17th minute Tomas Mc Cann goal ensured a 2-05 to 0-07 interval lead for the Toome men and they looked in charge at this stage.
Creggan began to take control as the second half got under way however with Kevin Small and Conor McCann on top at mid-field and providing service to a hungry attack in which Tiaran McAteer excelled and awarded frees proved food and drink for marksmen Ruairi and Jamie McCann.
The Creggan approach was positive in the extreme while Cargin struggled and a meagre two point return for the second half speaks volumes and at conclusion Creggan had sprinted away to a three point advantage and a place in the championship decider 2021.
St. Mary’s, Aghagallon 1-19 Portglenone 1-18
Ruairi McCann proved to be the hero for Aghagallon as his point two minutes into the final period of extra-time in Dunsilly saw Aghagallon reach their first ever Senior Football decider after defeating Portglenone 1-19-1-18 in an epic semi-final tussle this afternoon.
There were plenty of tricks and treats on show as the sides were drawn level ten times throughout a dramatic 90 minutes.
It took two periods of extra time to separate the sides and there was speculation about the validity of the second period being allocated but the result stood and it was the men from Aghagallon were on their way to a first Senior Championship final
Creggan Kickhams 1-12-0-07 Aghagallon
Kevin Herron reports from Corrigan Park
Creggan Kickhams bridged a 67-year gap, lifting the Padraig McNamee Cup for the first time since 1954 with a 1-12-0-07 win over Aghagallon at Corrigan Park in Sunday afternoons Northern Switchgear decider.
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, relying on the placed ball to keep them in contention and only scoring their first from play with 10 minutes remaining.
However, they did keep the game alive until second half injury-time when the man with the most famous name in Gaelic Football, Sam Maguire, capped his introduction with a goal to end Creggan’s long wait for Championship glory.
Tir na nOg complete League and Intermediate championship double
Tir na nOg made it an Intermediate championship and division 2 league double when they beat All Saints in the final at Portglenone.
Tír Na nÓg Randalstown 2-14 All Saints Ballymena 1-10
At a pristine Kelly Park in Portglenone, Tír Na nÓg Randalstown deservedly claimed this year’s Intermediate Championship title after seeing off All Saints Ballymena with seven points to spare.
After claiming the Division Two title earlier in the season, Michael O’Kane’s side had too much for their neighbours and bar a five minute spell in the third quarter, the Ógs were more than comfortable with anything that the All Saints threw at them.
An early Daniel Martin goal helped favourites Randalstown settle quicker into the contest and in half forward Darragh Fagan, they had the games stand out player.
Fagan contributed seven points to his cause, but the Randalstown bench also made a telling contribution.
Ciaran Dobbin was introduced after 41 minutes. His goal six minutes after being introduced put paid to any idea of an All Saints comeback after the Slemish Park side cut the arrears from seven to just two.
Dobbin also added a point as the Randalstown men saw the game out in convincing fashion to book an Ulster championship date on the 5th December against the champions of Armagh.
Naomh Comhghall lift Junior Crown
St Comgalls, Antrim 0–18 Rasharkin 0-18 (aet)
St Comgalls win 3-2 on penalties
St Comgall’s and Rasharkin played out a classic final on Sunday afternoon with the junior crown on the line. In the end, it was the men from Antrim town who held their nerve form the penalty spot, substitute Peter McAuley with the decisive spot kick.
It was an epic final between two evenly matched sides with momentum swinging like the proverbial gate and both sides looking like they had it won at the end of the hour. The sides were tied incredibly on 10 occasions over the 80 minutes with two points the biggest lead either side held at any stage. The fate of the junior championship was decided by the lottery of penalties but that will matter little to the St Comgall’s.
Penalties to decide who would be junior champions and it was St Comgall’s who blinked first. James McCabe’s penalty was saved superbly from Tiarnan O’Boyle after Andrew Hasson fired home the opening penalty. Ruairi O’Boyle’s penalty fired wide of the left post as Miles Devine’s penalty made sure it was ‘as you were’ on the score line after two penalties each. Shane Hasson’s spot kick cannoned back off the crossbar before Caolan O’Loan’s converted his spot kick to make it advantage to St Comgall’s. Tiarnan O’Boyle found the top corner with his spot kick before Tom Pratchett’s penalty sailed over the bar to leave the sides tied on two successful spot kicks each after four penalties.
Anto Watson saved Seamus Ellis’ diving to his right hand side paving the way for Peter McAuley to fire the winning spot kick and send the St Comgall’s faithful into delirium. A cruel way to end a final but Rasharkin more than played their part in a hugely entertaining final. Scant consolation for the men from Dreen who will ply their trade in Division 2 in 2022.