Brendan McTaggart looks back at the Senior Football decider and events at Corrigan Park.
A step too far
The Cuchullains came to Corrigan Park on Sunday afternoon with another ambush on their mind. Having taken the scalps of St Galls, Lamh Dhearg and Portglenone on their way to the senior football final, they had The Green Machine in their sights. But it was, a step too far.
Cargin are the footballing aristocrats of the Saffron County for the better part of the last decade if not longer. Sunday was their seventh title in nine years and they needed every ounce of their experience and knowhow garnered in that time to write their name on the McNamee Cup for the 12th time.
Despite playing the majority of the final with 14 men, Cargin were at their controlled best. Their game management of these situations is second to none within the county and their ability to pick the correct pass and make the right decision time after time unerring.
Five points separated the sides at the end of the hour, maybe a little flattering for the Erin’s Own men with just a point between the sides as the clock ticked into the 51st minute. Dunloy brought their own brand of expansive football, more so in the first half where they looked to drive long ball in on top of Kevin McQuillan.
The first half was captivating. Cargin dominated possession, clearly wary of the speed in the Dunloy attack and the Cuchullains certainly weren’t overawed by the occasion or opposition. By the end of the first quarter they had a two point lead with Conal Cunning, Keelan Molloy and Deaglan Smith all splitting the posts.
One point separated the sides in the 22nd minute when Eunan Quinn saw red. Already on a yellow card, he chased a high ball that was landing below the crossbar and his tackle on Dunloy ‘keeper Sean Doherty can only be best described as reckless. Doherty was felled and receiving treatment for injuries to his face when referee Colm McDonald called Quinn to his side. Red was the call and rightly so. The Cargin players weren’t happy but their prostrations fell on deaf ears.
The red card was still being debated by the patrons around Corrigan Park when goal chances at either side came. Seaan Elliott breaking clear of the Cargin defence before finding Karl Fitzpatrick in space. His effort was superbly saved by McNabb in goals before Fitzpatrick knocked over the rebound.
From the kickout, Cargin showed their class, experience and composure. A rapid break ended in Sean O’Neill finding Conchuir Johnston and he finished expertly.
Dunloy and McQuillan had the final say of the half to leave the minimum between the sides 1-3 to 0-5 in favour of Cargin.
While the Erin’s Own men hit six wides, very un-Cargin like, Dunloy spurned too many chances at the other end of the pitch in the opening 30 minutes. Dropping the ball short on four different occasions and against a side like Cargin, passing up on those chances was always going to come back and haunt them.
That being said, it didn’t look to be the case 11 minutes into the second half.
Cunning knocked over his second and third points of the final to give the Cuchullains the lead once again. It prompted the introduction of Pat Shivers and Mick McCann off the bench for Ronan Devlin’s men. As far as substitutions and wanting an impact, it wasn’t a bad pair of footballers to bring on.
Experience and youth, brilliance and ability eeking out of every pour. It was that duo that turned the tide in favour of the reigning champions.
Cargin held a one point lead when they managed to score the second major of the game. They were soaking up Dunloy pressure as the Cuchullains looked for ways to penetrate a watertight Cargin defence but a piece of quick thinking from Mick McCann after a dubious free was awarded carved open the Dunloy defence. He spotted the run of Conhur Johnston down the right and he finished with a calmness and composure the belittled his 18 years of age.
Four points down against a side like Cargin who are the masters of game management was always going to be a massive ask for Dunloy but they halved that deficit by the time the clock ticked into added on time at the end of the hour.
The Cuchullains laid siege on the Cargin goal, Eoghan ‘Tuggy’ McGrath going close with his first touch of the game while they had a huge call for a penalty deep in injury time. Those calls weren’t answered.
Cargin made the most of the space left in the Dunloy defence and outscored the Cuchullains three points to one in the time that remained.
Deserving winners at the end of a pulsating final as the Green Machine continues to rumble. The Cuchullains dared to dream with the big ball in 2023 and showed a year to the day from winning the Intermediate title against Con Magees that there’s no such thing as limits within the Cuchullain Village.
As for Cargin, they show no signs of releasing their vice like grip on the McNamee Cup and set their sights on another assault on the Ulster Championship.
Cargin: John McNabb; Ronan Gribbin, Kevin McShane, Kevin O’Boyle; Justin Crozier, Paul McCann, Sean O’Neill; John Carron, Gerard McCann; James Laverty, Conchuir Johnston, David Johnston; Jamie Gribbin, Eunan Quinn, Tomas McCann
Subs: Michael McCann for G McCann (36); Pat Shivers for D Johnston (36); Benen Kelly for R Gribbin (44); Mark Kelly for J Gribbin (60+2); Cahor Donnelly for S O’Neill (60+4)
Scorers: C Johnston 2-00; T McCann 0-4 (4fs); P Shivers 0-3 (1f); S O’Neill 0-2; J Laverty 0-1
Dunloy: Sean Doherty; Conor Kinsella, Eoin McFerran, James Scally; Chrissy McMahon, Deaglan Smith, Oran Quinn; Keelan Molloy, Ryan McGarry; Seaan Elliott, Conal Cunning, Eoin O’Neill; Karl Fitzpatrick, Kevin McQuillan, Nigel Elliott
Subs: Michael Smith for K McQuillan (40); Aodhan McGarry for K Fitzpatrick (40); Eoghan McGrath for J Scally (60)
Scorers: C Cunning 0-4 (2fs); K Molloy 0-3; S Elliott 0-1; D Smith 0-1; E O’Neill 0-1
Referee: Colm McDonald (St Galls)