Greater hunger could swing it Sarsfield’s way


Patrick Sarsfield’s v Kickham’s Creggan

Dunsilly Saturday 5.00pm

With Tir na nOg leading by a point and seemingly on their way to this year’s Andersonstown SC Intermediate Hurling final and Sarsfield’s pushing for an equaliser, Sean Duffin body checked Caolan McKernan on the sideline and 45 yards from goal with referee Ciaran McCloskey blowing for a free.

The large crowd at Dunsilly held their collective breath as Niall McKenna stepped up to take the pressure free. Convert it and the game would go to extra time. Miss and it would be Tir na nOg who would advance to the decider.

McKenna is no stranger to pressure and held his nerve to fire the resulting free between the uprights, much to the approval of the Sarsfield’s supporters in the large crowd and the rest is history.

Anthony McGarrigle fired past Kevin Sheerin, 30 seconds into extra time and Gary Lennon added a point to give the Stewartstown Road side a lead that they never looked again like losing.

Eamon Og McAllister pulled one back for the Randalstown side but the momentum was very much with Sarsfield’s as Kevin McKernan pointed at the other end to restore their four point advantage.

The Belfast side were now winning a lot of dirty ball and were more measured in their attacks and Niall McKenna pointed a free and added another one from play to move them six ahead.

Tir na nOg were still fighting hard but the momentum was very much with their opponents and another point from the influential McKenna had Sarsfields seven in front at the short whistle.

The Whitehill side kept going right to the end but there would be no way back as the Sarsfield’s defence stood strong and a couple of pointed Sean Duffin frees in response to points from substitute Nicholas O’ Mullan and man of the match, Niall McKenna brought matters to a close.

The next day, 20 miles down the road at Glenravel it was Kickham’s Creggan’s county player, Conor McCann who guided his side to victory in the other semi-final with a man of the match display against a fancied Emmet’s Cushendun at Fr Maginn Park.

McCann, who missed all of last season through injury only returned to action a few weeks ago, but he showed just how vital he is to his team as he scored 1-10 of their 3-11 total, four of those points coming in the last eight minutes to pull his team clear of danger.

This win certainly made quite a few sit up and take notice. The Kickham’s had endured an injury ravished season and finished bottom of division 2 with only one win from 13 starts and had recorded only one win from 13 starts.

Conor McCann in action against Cushendun’s Conor McHugh during the semi-final

They lost to Sarsfield’s by a goal in Creggan on the opening day of the group stages of the championship but the return to fitness of Conor McCann and several of the other walking wounded has brought about a dramatic change in fortunes and form.

They recovered from the Sarsfields defeat to record an impressive 3-16 to 1-13 win over Oisin Glenariff in Waterfoot and followed that up with a win over St. Paul’s in Belfast and a home win over Con Magee’s Glenravel to qualify for the semi-final.

That impressive win against last year’s beaten finalists Emmet’s Cushendun sets them up with another meeting with Sarsfield’s and an opportunity to avenge that group 2 defeat earlier in the year.

Sarsfield’s suffered a surprise defeat to St. Paul’s on day two at the Bear Pit but recovered to defeat Con Magee’s at Fr. Maginn Park, setting up a winner takes all meeting with Glenariff in the final round 2 game at the Bear Pit.

A Kevin McKernan goal from the penalty spot in the 59th minute turned this bruising Intermediate Hurling Championship Group 2 encounter very much in favour of Sarsfield’s as they overcame the challenge of Oisin, Glenariffe to qualify for a semi-final meeting with Cushendun.

Five minutes previous an Aaron Cosgrove point had moved the visitors three ahead and it looked like the Waterfoot side were on their way to the semis, but it was Sarsfield’s who would finish the stronger.

McKernan’s penalty conversion saw Sarsfield’s run out 2-15 to 1-16 winners to set up that semi-final meeting with Tir na nOg which they won after extra time and another meeting with Creggan on Saturday evening in Dunsilly in the decider.

Both sides are laced with experienced players with the McKernan clan, Gerard, Caolan, Kevin, Daniel and Donal all starting in the semi-final while Jack Daniels, Mark McCavanagh, Enda McCartan, Gary Lennon and Niall McKenna led the Sarsfield’s challenge.

Niall McKenna in action during the semi-fnal win over Tir na nOg

Conor McCann is the man who can swing this one in favour of the Kickham’s and the former county captain is likely to come in for some close attention but Creggan are not a one man team.

His brother Thomas, a former county player himself, Kevin Rice, Aidan McKeown, the Maguires, Aidan and Sam, Ruairi McCann and Jake McAteer are just some of the survivors from Creggan’s last championship final appearance against Carey Faughs in 2021.

The Kickham’s lost that one to a strong Carey Faughs side and were beaten by St. Gall’s in the final back in 2018.

Saturday evenings decider may well come down to whether Conor McCann for Creggan or Niall McKenna for Sarsfields performs to their optimum but both sides have other match winners within their ranks.

In the end it will come down to the side that wants it most and Sarsfield’s certainly displayed that hunger in bagful’s against Tir na nOg and that hunger might just get them over the line over an improving Creggan.

Creggan’s Kevin Rice in action during his team’s win over Cushendun in Saturday’s IHC semi-final in Glenravel. Pic by John McIlwaine

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