Can Creggan make successful Ulster debut?

Ulster SFC Club championship

Corrigan Park Sunday 1-30pm

Kickham’s Creggan (Antrim) v Clann Eireann (Armagh)

Antrim champions Kickham’s Creggan make a first step into the unknown when they take on Clann Eireann of Armagh in the Ulster club SFC quarter-final at Corrigan Park on Sunday.

Creggan bridged a 67-year gap, lifting the Padraig McNamee Cup for the first time since 1954 with a 1-12 to 0-07 win over Aghagallon in the Antrim final at the same venue back on the 14th November and put the disappointment of recent final defeats behind them to climb the winner’s rostrum.

 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, however, they did keep the game alive until second half injury-time when substitute, Sam Maguire, capped his introduction with a goal to end Creggan’s long wait for Championship glory.

Creggan’s two previous final defeats came at the hands of neighbours, Erin’s Own Cargin but Gerard McNulty’s side got that monkey off their back when they came from behind to defeat the reigning champions in the semi-final at St. Enda’s.

McNulty, who was assistant to Kevin Madden at Creggan for two years before taking over the managers role, has brought his own style of management to the side and they have developed into a more expansive outfit.

He has introduced a number of new faces to the side with Ethan Carey-Small and Jamie McCann cementing starting places in defence and McCann in particular has been phenomenal, weighing in with vital scores from half-back.

Indeed their half back line of Aidan Maguire, Marty Johnston and McCann have rightly received rave notices and have been instrumental in the side’s success this year.

Oisin Kerr, in goals and Ricki Johnston at full back bring vast experience to what has been a solid defence with Odhran McLarnon dropping deep at times in a sweeper role and they held Aghagallon scoreless from play until 10 minutes from time.

Kevin Small and Conor McCann have formed a strong and mobile mid-field partnership while Tiernan McAteer, Matthew Rodgers and Ruairi McCann are always a threat in attack.

What of Clann Éireann ?

In one of the most remarkable Armagh senior football championship finals for many years, Lurgan side Clann Éireann staged a stunning comeback from a seemingly hopeless position to squeeze out their more illustrious opponents Crossmaglen at the Athletic Grounds.

With the sides having been deadlocked at 0-5 each at half-time, it was Crossmaglen, inspired by the O’Neill brothers and Cian McConville, who seized the initiative after the break to glide into a seemingly unassailable 0-11 to 0-5 lead.

But with ace marksman Conor Turbitt leading a spectacular Clann Éireann revival – he landed eight points in all – Rangers were rocked back on their heels when substitute Ruairí McDonald thundered a great drive to their net in the 49th minute.

At 0-12 to 1-9 the match was back in the melting pot but the sporting gods were to smile on Clann Éireann when another substitute Jack Conlon saw his harmless-looking speculative effort in the 59th minute graze the post and trickle over the line for the most unlikely of goals.

At 2-10 to 0-15 Clann Éireann were back in business and a further brace of Turbitt points saw them snatch the title to set up Saturday’s clash with the Kickham’s. There are a couple of Antrim connections with the Armagh side. Barry McCambridge, who wore no 3 in the final win over Crossmaglen is a son of John McCambridge from Cushendall and a nephew of Monty, Gaza and Michael McCambrdge, all of whom played county hurling for Antrim, and a first cousin of Cushendall and Antrim senior hurler Ryan McCambridge. Another local connection is that Gerry Fagan, who captained Clann Eireann to their 1963 county title before going on to become a legendry Ulster GAA official, started his teaching career in Cargan Primary School in Glenravel in 1948.

Gerard McNulty will not be shouting it from the rooftops but I’m sure he would have been surprised but happy with the result at the Athletic Grounds but at the same time well aware of the serious challenge Clann Eireann will pose on Sunday.

The astute McNulty will have done his homework on the Lurgan side with Turbitt marked down for special attention but most of his focus will have been on preparing his own side. The Kickham’s will have a big and noisy support behind them at Corrigan and if they can settle quickly into the game and produce anything near their best then there is no reason why they cannot win this one.

McNulty will already be thinking of Ulster

By Paddy McIlwaine

When Colm McDomhnaill’s full time whistle sounded at Corrigan Park amidst scenes of wild celebrations today, those tuning into the result from the Athletics ground would surely have expected the name of Crossmaglen Rangers to come up as their first round opponents in Ulster in two weeks-time.

The Rangers had won more Armagh championships than most of us have had hot dinners while their opponents at the Athletics Ground, Clann Éireann hadn’t won an Armagh Senior title for 53 years but, like Kickham’s Creggan they did the business today.

Clan Eireann came from 0-11 to 0-5 down to the former All Ireland club champions to produce the come-backs of all come-backs and run out 2-12 to 0-16 winners and earn themselves a place against Creggan in the first round of Ulster on the 5th December.

Conor Turbitt was superb for the new Armagh champions, kicking 0-8 over the hour and will already have been noted as someone who will need special attention by Gerard McNulty and his backroom team.

Substitute Jack Conlon scored a goal in the 49th minute and then fellow substitute Conlon saw his speculative long range shot strike the inside of a post before trickling over the line and Turbitt’s eighth point of the game secured victory for the underdogs.

Today’s win for Kickham’s over Aghagallon ended an even longer wait for the new Antrim champions. It’s been 67 years since Creggan last lifted the McNamee Cup so those celebrations were fully justified and like Clann Éireann, are likely to go on into the coming week.

Gerard McNulty and his team though will already be reflecting on a first bid at Ulster, and while he is unlikely to admit it, he will surely be happy with the result in Armagh.

Like Creggan, Ulster will mark new ground for the newly crowned Orchard champions and Corrigan Park will provide them with a hostile atmosphere and the Kickham’s, on this year’s form will be in with a fighting chance of advancing to the semi-final.

I spent most of today’s game wrestling with an umbrella and umbrella stand as I struggled to get the shots I wanted but, as usual the brother, Bert and the rest of the team came up with the winning shots.

Conditions for photography, like football were not great today but I’m going to indulge myself with some of the shots I did get and publish them for your enjoyment.

In the meantime well done to Creggan and particularly to my good friend Tony McCollum and his interview with Jerome Quinn after the game was great to watch and captured the emotions of many long serving Kickham’s supporters.

Commiserations to St. Mary’s Aghagallon. I’ve watched this group of players for many years and their progression and the progression of the club has been remarkable. As I suggested during the week, ‘you might have to lose one to win one’ and I’m sure they will be back stronger than ever next year and hopefully for them, their first Senior Championship success will not be too far away.

Creggan Climb their Everest

Brendan McTaggart reports from Corrigan Park as Creggan claim the senior football championship putting an end to a 67 year wait…

There’s a saying we’ve all heard in our time, you’re not entitled to a championship medal.  You earn them.  Creggan have earned their right to finally be called Antrim senior football champions.

They’ve made the journey to the decider on three of the last four years.  On Sunday, it was third time lucky for the Kickhams men as they put an end to their bridesmaid tag ending a wait of 67 years for another senior championship.  

With a packed Corrigan Park, both clubs brought the noise.  There can’t have been many left in the place they call home as the communities of Creggan and Aghagallon congregated at the Whiterock Road bringing a mix of smoke bombs and partisan support, everything a county final deserves.

To call it a defensive masterclass would do their attacking play a disservice but they restricted Aghagallon to just one point from play, Adam Loughran splitting the uprights in the 50th minute.  The Johnston brothers superb at the heart of their defence but it was how they cut out the attacking threats more by positional sense than out and out defending.  The St Mary’s men couldn’t deliver quick ball into their forwards and Creggan turned the screw to force turnovers and increase pressure on an overworked Aghagallon defence.  A testament to the coaching of Gerard McNulty and his team, the game was played exactly how he would have planned with his analysis and meticulous planning beforehand being emanated onto the Corrigan Park turf.

Odhran McLarnon covered every square inch of turf at Corrigan Park, providing an attacking outlet as they probed the St Mary’s defence with a mix of strong running off the shoulder, patience and precision.  Matthew Rodgers with three first half points while a brace of frees from Ruairi McCann, one from Jamie McCann and a white flag from Kevin Small was only answered to by scores from Luke Mulholland (’45) and Gareth Magee (free).  Creggan were full value for their five point half time lead and but for the weather conditions leading to some handling errors when in the final third, it could have been more.  Aghagallon struggled to get any attacking impetus with their first score coming in the 14th minute such was the dominance of the Kickhams in midfield and half back.

But as Aghagallon have shown in 2021, they are a second half team.  If they could get the right delivery into Gareth Magee or Ruairi McCann anything was possible.  They certainly upped their intensity levels in the second half and brought greater physicality to the final than they showed in the opening 30 minutes.  With Magee’s accuracy from frees keeping them in touch, Adam Loughran was always a threat.  He became more prominent as Aghagallon went in search for a championship lifeline.  

They managed to create half chances but Ruairi McCann and Jack Lenehan were both denied by a brilliant Creggan defence.  Four points separated the sides going into injury time when Creggan finally breathed a collective sigh of relief.  With St Mary’s chasing the game and throwing caution to the wind, Luke Mulholland left his goal keeping position to create an extra body in midfield.  The ball went loose and Creggan worked the ball to Sam Maguire who stood free behind the Aghagallon defence and with the simplest of tasks to hammer the game defining, if not championship confirming goal.  The man with the most famous name in all of gaelic football cemented his name into Creggan folklore by scoring the only goal of the game with his first touch having just come off the bench moments earlier.

The outpouring of emotion when referee Colm McDonald called for an end to the decider was euphoric. Generation defining.  Young faces painted and draped in green and gold running onto the pitch to meet their heroes.  Those a little older with tears in their eyes.  Selfies, family photographs, flashes from camera’s sparking into the darkened late Autumn sky of west Belfast.  The Kickhams family made the most of the occasion with the cold air and mizzling rain meaning little to anyone looking to make their own memory of this monumental day for Creggan.  It was easy to see what this meant to Creggan club.  Any championship wins are special, when they’ve come as hard as they have for Creggan, it adds a little more.  It’s fair to say they are treasuring this day of all days.

Harry Bateson, who was on the last Creggan team to win the championship back in 1954 gets his hands on the cup once again as he and Jamie McCann share the trophy

There is no more talk of 67 years or droughts allowed in the Staffordstown Road, they look to the future and an Ulster Club championship date with Clan Eireann of Armagh. The McNamee Cup remains in the parish of Duneane, but he wears a band of gold along with green in 2021.

Creggan bridge 67-year gap

Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football 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. 

Sam Maguire celebrates after his injury time goal sealed the title for Creggan

There was one change to the pre-printed starting 15 as Sean Duffin came into replace captain Conor McCann in wing-half forward. 

The drizzle in Belfast made conditions difficult underfoot but it was Creggan who adapted quickest and got their noses in front. 

Matthew Rodgers claimed an advanced mark and guided it between the posts and then doubled his sides lead, taking a pass from Eunan McAteer and side stepping a few challenges before slotting it over the bar. 

After 10 minutes Creggan were three to the good with Ruairi McCann converting his first free of the afternoon and Kevin Small extended the lead after taking an over the shoulder pass from Odhran McLarnon and steering it over. 

Aghagallon were in need of a response and goalkeeper Luke Mulholland provided it from a 45’ but Jamie McCann kicked one from the same scenario at the other end to ensure his side were 0-05-0-01 ahead at the first water-break. 

A converted Gareth Magee free saw Aghagallon pull another point back with little over ten minutes to the break, though Creggan would hit back to back-to-back points prior to the interval. 

Matthew Rodgers conjured up his third point of the half with another nice score and Ruairi McCann kicked a straight-forward free in front of the posts to give Creggan a 0-07-0-02 advantage at the interval. 

Aghagallon’s Adam Loughran in action against Creggan’s Kevin Small

Creggan picked up where they left off before the break as Marty Johnston powered through and landed a fantastic point. 

Gareth Magee kicked his second point of the afternoon, but his side spurned a golden goal chance ten minutes into the half. 

At the other end Creggan weren’t as wasteful as Jamie McCann and Kevin Small exchanged passes with the later hoisting it over, Ruairi McCann then kicked his second free to make it 0-10-0-03. 

Magee swung over his third free of the afternoon to keep his side on Creggan’s coattails, though a reply from Tiernan McAteer sent the gap back to seven with little over ten minutes remaining. 

Aghagallon’s first point from play arrived with little under ten minutes remaining and it was a fantastic, angled effort from Adam Loughran that dropped over the bar. 

Another two half chances fell for Kevin Murray’s men- Gareth Magee got a sighting of goal- but his effort crashed off the outside of the post and Ruairi McCann guided another effort a few inches wide of the post. 

Magee landed two further frees to make it 0-11-0-07 on the 60th minute and Creggan were forced to see out added time a man light when Martin Johnston was black-carded late-on. 

The Staffordstown outfit still held the aces and Aghagallon needed to take a risk to get back into proceedings. 

Their gamble failed to pay as Creggan claimed the game’s only goal in injury-time. Luke Mulholland pressed further up the field and failed to clear the danger in front of him with a long ball falling into the path of Sam Maguire- introduced less than sixty seconds previous- and Maguire had the simplest of tap-ins to put the game beyond Aghagallon’s reach. 

Team captain Conor McCann lifts the Paddy McNamee Cup afloft after Creggan bridged a 67 year gap wih their win over Aghagallon

Ruairi McCann kicked a late free to bring his tally to 0-03 and it would prove to be the game’s final incident of note as Creggan climbed their Everest after a couple of recent heartaches to lift the Padraig McNamee Cup for the first time in 67-years. 

Captain Conor McCann climbed the steps of the new stand to Corrigan and delightfully raised the cup aloft to the sea of green in yellow in front of him and no doubt the celebrations will continue on the Staffordstown Road for the next couple of days. 

The Johnston brothers RIcky and Marty with Kevin Small at the final whistle

Creggan Kickhams: O Kerr, E Carey-Small, R Johnston, E McAteer, A Maguire, M Johnston (0-01), J McCann (0-02, 0-01 45’, 0-01f), K Small (0-02), C McCann, T McAteer (0-01), P Coey, S Duffin, M Rodgers (0-03), R McCann (0-03f), O McLarnon. Subs: C McCann for S Duffin (45), K Rice for M Rodgers (48), F Burke for O McLarnon (55), S Maguire (1-00) for T McAteer (60+1), T McCann for P Coey (60+4). 

Aghagallon: L Mulholland (0-01 45’), P Branagan, D Donnelly, A Mulholland, D McAlernon, R O’Neill, J Lamont, D McAlernon, J Lenehan, E Walsh, A Loughran (0-01), M McAfee, G Magee (0-05f), R McCann, C McAlindan. Subs: O Lenehan for C McAlindan (26), P Mulholland for A Mulholland (44), P Maginnis for M McAfee (49). 

Referee: Colm McDonald (St Galls)

Do you have to lose one to win one?

Northern Switchgear SFC Final Preview

St. Mary’s Aghagallon v Kickham’s Creggan

By Paddy McIlwaine

The old adage, ‘you have to lose one to win one’ has been well documented in the GAA past and if that is the case then Kickham’s Creggan’s name is already on the SFC Cup. Kickham’s were beaten narrowly in the 2018 and 2020 finals to nearest neighbours and deadliest rivals, Erin’s Own Cargin on both occasions so from that point of view they have already accomplished the first part of the equation.

As we all know by now, matters in football as in life are not that simple and St. Mary’s Aghagallon are unlikely to be too fazed by those statistics and are likely to relish the underdog tag as they head to Corrigan Park this Sunday.

Kickham’s Creggan will start this Sunday’s final as favourites and their semi-final win over Erin’s Own, Cargin at St. Enda’s suggests that the favourites tag is there on merit. Having lost to their neighbours and reigning champions in the 2018 and 2020 finals their strong second half performance at Hightown suggests that Creggan have learned from those earlier defeats and are in rude health going into Sunday’s final.

They are a strong side with a good blend of youth and experience with Oisin Kerr in goals, Ricky and Martin Johnston, Kevin Small and Ruairi McCann all having represented Antrim at Senior level while Ethan Carey Small, Matthew Rogers and Jamie McCann are amongst the more recent additions to the side and they have all been excellent this year.

Jamie McCann has been a revelation at left half back and has contributed handsomely on the scoreboard while Ruairi McCann provides a real threat in attack. County hurling captain, Conor McCann forms a formidable mid-field partnership with Kevin Small and against Cargin they were instrumental in wrestling the title from the champions.

Aghagallon have an excellent keeper themselves in Luke Mulholland who is the present Antrim custodian and collected a division 4 National League medal with the Saffron’s this year while Eunan Walsh, Ruairi McCann and Adam Loughran were all part of that Antrim panel.

David McAlarnon made a return to the side this year to replace the unavailable Oisin Lenehan at mid-field and has carried on where he had left off with consistent performances which have played a big part in his side’s success this year.

St. Mary’s won their first U21 championship back in 2016 and many of that team form the backbone of Sunday’s side while seven of the panel were on the St. Ronan’s Lurgan side who won the McCrory and Hogan Cups in 2018 so the side is unlikely to be fazed by Sunday’s final.

Path to the final

Creggan enjoyed a much easier passage through the group stages than their opponents on Sunday. They were drawn in a group of three with St. Gall’s and Gort na Mona and recorded fairly comfortable home and away victories over the Milltown Row side.

Gort na Mona fell 0-3 to 0-9 to the Kickham’s at Enright Park and were unable to field for the away fixture owing to Covid in the Gort’s camp.

Creggan went on to defeat St. John’s by 1-8 to 0-8 at Hightown in the quarter-final before coming strong in the second half to beat a fancied Cargin in the semi-final.

In both games the Staffordstown Road side have shown great resilience rather than being spectacular but these wins will surely have cemented their belief that their name is on this year’s championship cup.

Aghagallon’s path through group 3 was a much more precarious journey. They travelled to Lamh Dhearg for their opening game and lost by a point in a high scoring and very entertaining encounter.

Wins at home to Aldergrove and a very important away win to St. Enda’s put them right back in the frame but defeat to the Hannastown side at Pairc Na Gael on day four seemed to have put their chances of qualification very much in jeopardy.

An away win to Aldergrove left the final game between Aghagallon and St. Enda’s, a winner takes all affair and in another tight encounter St. Mary’s emerged as two point winners to qualify in second place to Lamh Dhearg and set up a quarter-final meeting with St. Brigid’s.

Second half goals from Ruairi McCann and Eunan Walsh were enough to see St. Mary’s through to a first semi-final and Walsh was again the man on target as Aghagallon emerged victorious in a well-documented marathon semi-final over Portglenone.

So Creggan will probably start tomorrow’s final as the bookies favourites and logic dictates that their greater experience and superior physicality will be enough to get them over the line.

Those two recent final defeats to Cargin adds weight to the notion that ‘you have to lose one to win one’ but Aghagallon have shown an ability to plunder goals throughout the championship and if Eunan Walsh, Ruairi McCann and Gareth Magee are on top of their game and if Adam Loughran is fit to start then St. Mary’s won’t be too far away.