Ulster Club SFC quarter-final
Erin’s Own Cargin v Naomh Conaill (Donegal)
Corrigan Park Sunday ( 1.30pm)
Erin’s Own Cargin face Donegal champions, Naomh Conaill Donegal at Corrigan this Sunday as they attempt to advance to the next round of the Ulster SFC Club tournament for the first time in a number of years.
The Toome club collected their 11th Antrim championship title this year and their fourth in five years when they defeated St. Mary’s Aghagallon in the final at Corrigan Park. It took extra time to separate the finalists with Cargin finally running out 1-18 to 3-9 winners.
It also took extra time in their semi-final as Erin’s Own avenged last year’s semi-final defeat to neighbours, Kickham’s, Creggan so the Toome men have endured a couple of challenging encounters in the build up to Sunday’s meeting with Naomh Conaill.
Naomh Conaill have a good recent record in the Donegal championship. The Glenties side have contested the last six Tir Conaill deciders, winning the championship in 2019, 2020 and again in 2022.
In 2019 they avenged a final loss to Gaoth Dobhar the previous year, that Gaoth Dobhar side went on to beat Cargin in the opening round of Ulster in 2018 before claiming the Ulster title.
It took penalties to decide Glenties and Kilcar after extra time had failed to separate them with Naomh Conaill edging it and this year they avenged a 2021 final defeat to St. Eunan’s. Leterkenny to emerge as Donegal champions.
Ciaran Thompson was the hero for Naomh Conaill as his late free gave the Glenties a one-point victory over holders St Eunan’s in the Donegal SFC final at Ballybofey.
However, the turning point of the game was a controversial red card issued to St Eunan’s attacker Shane O’Donnell just six minutes before the break.
The 2021 champions were leading 1-3 to 0-4 at the break thanks to Eoin McGeehin’s goal, but they suffered a hammer blow when Donegal ace O’Donnell was dismissed for his part in a melee before the interval.
Rory Kavanagh’s men failed to score for the opening 10 minutes of the game, but McGeehin’s goal was their first score after Brendan McDyer and Mac Ceallabhuí had given Glenties the early lead.
The holders kept their noses in front for the remainder of a keenly-contested half, but Naomh Conaill went on to press home their numerical advantage in the second half.
A well-taken goal from Charlie McGuinness was cancelled out when St Eunan’s midfielder Kevin Kealy found the net, 10 minutes from time.
Thompson’s free on 58 minutes would prove to be the final score of the contest as St Eunan’s failed to break down a resolute Glenties defence in the closing minutes as Martin Regan’s men regained the Dr Maguire Cup.
What of Cargin?
In previous years the turnaround for the Antrim champions was minimal but this year Cargin have had five weeks to prepare from the Antrim final and sounds coming out of the home camp suggests they are in good shape going into Sunday’s Ulster opener.
Ronan Devlin made the step up from coach to manager at the start of the 2022 season following the resignation of Damian Cassidy who he had worked alongside for the past five years and the transition has been relatively smooth.
His panel was well known to him and without making wholesale changes he has introduced a number of young players to the side but is likely to look to his trusted and vastly experienced players as he attempts to gain his first Ulster win.
Cargin record in the competition has been poor since beating Carrickmore at Casement back in 1999 and they have failed to get past the first round since with Killyclougher back in 2018 and Gweedore in 2019 being their most recent conquerors and there was no Ulster in 2020 owing to Covid.
There is a quiet confidence within the camp that this could be their year however and they certainly have the players to push Naomh Conaill all the way. John McNabb and Kevin O’Boyle were selected on the recent Devenish All Stars side and both have been playing out of their skins this season.
Michael McCann and his brother Tomas came up with important scores in the semi-final and finals respectively while Justin Crozier, James Laverty, John Carron, James Laverty, Gerard McCann, Paul McCann and Kevin McShane bring a wealth of experience to the table.
The emerging talents of Matthew Gribbin, Ciaran Bradley, Pat Shivers, Sean O’Neill, Ronan Gribbin and Cathair Donnelly have added pace and momentum to the Cargin side and it makes for a solid unit.
Manager Devlin will have no doubt looked at the three goals his side conceded against Aghagallon in the Antrim final and will be keen that his defence is much tighter against the men from Tir Conaill but if Cargin can put their A game together then they can progress to the Ulster semi-final.