Northern Switchgear Senior Football Championship – Semi-Final
Cargin 0-13 Creggan 0-12
Saturday 24 September
Brendan McTaggart reports from Dunsilly
Cargin and Creggan rarely fail to deliver when it comes to Championship drama and Saturday evening at Dunsilly was no different. This turned out to be every inch the titanic battle promised in the build-up with thrills, spills, moments of brilliance and points under extreme pressure. A feisty affair that had plenty of off the ball shenanigans going on, referee Colm McDonald will have easier matches to officiate, that’s for sure. In the end, it was Cargin who edged their parish rivals in extra time, Tomas McCann with the winning point. How many times has that been said throughout his career? ‘Mossy’ the man for the Toome side when the chips are down.
For 60 minutes this was a game of two halves. Cargin dominated the opening half and the game was played on their terms. Patiently picking holes in the Creggan defence with their ball retention king. They owned the ball for that opening 30 minutes and the three point lead they had at the short whistle was the least they deserved. But for some wayward shooting, they could have been further ahead.
Playing Gerard McCann in a free role as he patrolled midfield, he read the game and if Creggan threatened to break he was there to stop the danger. To say Cargin were on top in midfield was an understatement. Clean ball, dirty ball, more often that not it ended up coming out in the hands of someone wearing Cargin shirt.
Creggan didn’t score their first point until 15th minute, coming through Kealan McCann but Cargin had stretched into a three point lead by that stage and in a game that always looked like it would be low scoring, a two point lead looked massive. Michael McCann (free) and Pat Shivers dissecting the uprights either side of Ciaran Bradley’s outstanding point with just seven minutes gone. Wide on the left, barely 20 yards from the end line, Bradley’s point was good enough to grace any pitch in the country.
Creggan were staving Cargin’s dominance by resolutely defending. Closing gaps and marking runners, it was taking something special for a score to be eeked out of this game. Step forward John McNabb. He’s already made a name for himself in this years championship with his exploits against Lamh Dhearg in the quarter-final, on Saturday evening his passing was sublime. He could have landed the ball on a sixpence from 40 yards such was his accuracy and if Creggan threatened to press Cargin in their own half, McNabb’s ability to pick a runner further up the pitch was both a great attacking outlet and released pressure from their defence.
A foul on Justin Crozier brought about Shivers’ second point of the match through a free while McNabb got his first of three scores overall through a ’45 with 23 minutes played. Creggan introduced Killian Burke to help wrestle some momentum in midfield but they could only manage a second point in the opening 30 minutes, Ruairi McCann raising the white flag from a free to leave Cargin ahead 0-5 to 0-2 at the short whistle.
It was going to take a monumental shift in momentum for Creggan to get their way back into this tie but just like last years match between these sides in the semi-final, Creggan found a way to get back.
Michael McCann did fire over the opening score of the half to leave Cargin four ahead once more but incredibly it would be their last score for 20 minutes as Creggan took control. The introduction of Sean Duffin helped in the middle third but the Kickhams men looked to play with more intensity and hunger. They had Cargin camped in their own half as the Toome men couldn’t win a kick out for love nor money.
The Creggan resurgence came with four points in the space of ten minutes. A brace of scores each from Ruairi McCann (frees) and Liam Quinn (one mark) brought parity to the score line by the half way mark of the half. Quinn’s first score of those coming through a fisted point when he had an opening for the Cargin goal. He took the safe option as Creggan turned the screw.
The Kickhams men were playing with power and pace from the middle third, looking more assured and decisive. If Cargin looked to reset their defence and squeeze the Creggan attack, the Staffordstown Road men had the ability to recycle the ball and pull the Cargin defence from side to side, eventually finding the shooter in space.
Creggan took the lead for the first time in the semi-final thanks to Ruairi McCann’s fourth point of the contest, his first from open play and when Paul McCann received a black card in the 51st minute, it looked like the stars were aligning once more for the Creggan men.
Ruairi McCann doubled their advantage with seven minutes remaining but that would be their last score of 60. Whether Creggan looked to protect what they had or Cargin found another level in midfield, the Toome men threw the dice one more time.
A rare second half foray into the Creggan half saw Gerard McCann blazing through on goal. He looked like he only had goal on his mind but he saw his rasping drive clip the top of the crossbar before going over.
The clock ticked into injury time and Cargin had one more chance. Gerard McCann playing the ball cross-field where Shivers gathered to ‘mark’. A pressure kick but it was never in doubt. The Cargin support behind Shivers on the hill at Dunsilly celebrated before the umpires could reach for the white flag.
As the sides regrouped at the end of the hour and the scores tied on 0-8 apiece, word filtered through that Pat Shivers was sent off for an off the ball incident at the of the hour. The Toome men reintroduced John Carron and his influence reigned in extra time. It was a survival of the strongest from here in and a case of who would blink first. Creggan probably threw away the chance to progress in the hour and extra time was always going to be a lottery. Players were dropping with cramp and injury but there was still moments of brilliance that would ultimately decide this contest.
Marty Johnston opened the scoring in extra time, his long range effort bounced in the heart of the Cargin defence before sailing over the bar.
Cargin replied with a free from substitute Tomas McCann and another ’45 from McNabb to give Cargin the lead once more.
Creggan were back on terms moments later as substitute Conor McCann split the uprights to leave the sides tied at half time in extra time.
Again, Creggan opened the scoring. This time Matthew Rodgers only for Tomas McCann to reply through a placed ball. Creggan’s hopes were dealt a massive blow when Ruairi McCann was black carded but they retook the lead in the last minute of extra time. Tiarnan McAteer with the score after patient build-up found him in space.
Cargin replied and found another gear when they needed it most. Winning a free, over 50 yards from goal, McNabb left his goal line once more. He struck the ball high into the Dunsilly night sky and was the first to celebrate. He knew he scored as soon as he made contact. With the clock running into injury time and the threat of penalty kicks looming, Kevin O’Boyle went of one last run down the left hand side. Rolling back the years, skipping past challenges, Cargin recycled the ball and found Tomas McCann in space. The right man in the right place and the right time for Cargin. He split the posts in the second minute of injury time to score what was the winning point and seal Cargin’s place in the 2022 decider.
An unbelievable contest and one where no-one really deserved to lose. One of the oldest cliches in the book but it never rang more true than this game. Cargin march on.
Cargin: John McNabb; Kevin O’Boyle, Justin Crozier, Cathaoir Donnelly; John Carron, Kevin McShane, Sean O’Neill; James Laverty, Gerard McCann; Jamie Gribbin, Kieron Close, Ciaran Bradley; Pat Shivers, Michael McCann, Paul McCann
Scorers: P Shivers 0-3 (1f 1M); J McNabb 0-3 (2’45 1f)Tomas McCann 0-3 (2f); M McCann 0-2 (2f); G McCann 0-1; C Bradley
Creggan: Oisin Kerr; Ethan Carey-Small, Ricky Johnston, Eunan McAteer; Aidan Maguire, Marty Johnston, Jamie McCann; Kealan McCann, Kevin Small; Tiarnan McAteer, Ruairi McCann, Odhran McLarnon; Liam Quinn, Dominic McAteer, Kevin Rice
Scorers: R McCann 0-5 (4fs); L Quinn 0-2 (1M); M Johnston 0-1; Kealan McCann 0-1; T McAteer 0-1; Conor McCann 0-1; Matthew Rodgers 0-1
Referee: Colm McDonald (St Galls)