McGuckin relives ’74 while starting the Novena’s for Sunday

By Brendan McTaggart

Around Duneane, you’re never far away from someone with a story to tell.  An incredible spot with three GAA clubs sharing the same Parish.  You throw a coin up in the air and where it lands you’ll get a yarn from a different character with a twinkle in their eye.  This week I probably met Duneane’s biggest character.

1974.  A year Cargin natives of a certain vintage will never forget and for one particular native of the Erins Own club, a year that will be surpassed by no other.  The Toome side won the McNamee Cup for the first time and it was lifted by one Packie McGuckin.  No better man to speak to before Sunday’s decider with their nearest and dearest, Creggan.

McGuckin, now a resident west of the Bann in Ballymaguigan, was full-back for the Erin’s Own club when they made their breakthrough 44 years ago.  In his own words, he was made captain of the team more for his temperament.  That didn’t seem like a logical choice a week before the final when he told us about his only sending off during his career: “The only time I was sent off was two weeks prior to the championship final, we played Glenravel down in Glenravel in a league match.  I got the line for striking Seamus Scullion, I’d have called it more self-defence.  I got a ban but it was over on the Saturday night before the match as the ref put it in for attempted strike.”

A first round win against Antrim Town with an injury time winner got the Erin’s Own men rolling but the world was Packie’s oyster in ’74.  A jaunt over the pond to Canada for work during the summer culminated in a journey home for the semi-final that last three days and involved planes, trains and automobiles.  McGuckin has one standout memory from the semi-final that epitomises the local rivalry: “We played Hannahstown in the semi-final up in Whitehill and I do remember it was a wet evening.  My uncle Eddie Laverty was at the match and afterwards said: “I didn’t mind getting soaked but I’m really annoyed that Cargin got to a championship final.”  He was a Moneyglass man and it showed you the rivalry that exists within the Parish of Duneane, even back then.

“It (the rivalry) was much stronger back then.  All of the rivalry between Creggan, Moneyglass and Cargin was fierce.  I remember playing a minor game down where the Game of Thrones is being filmed at, the Moneyglass pitch was closed and the Higgins gave them a pitch in there.  We played Moneyglass there and I reckon there was over a thousand people there.”

On the final itself, McGuckin told us about the moment he felt changed the game: “We weren’t favourites for that game.  It was our first senior final and any south west team were always underdogs.  It was a tight game but Richard Johnson scored a clinker of a goal that was basically the winning of it.”  Johnson’s goal has gone down in folklore.  What Packie didn’t tell us and as we’ve found out since, it was his brother and Saffron Gael contributor Geordie who created the chance for Johnson.

As the conversation flowed and the laughs got louder, our thought soon turned to Sunday.  Packie remained jovial but there was a sense of business when he gave us his thoughts on the final: “This is as intense a rivalry as you will get.  Partly because of the Parish rivals but because Cargin have been dominating they’re wanted to get knocked off their perch and the team who wants to most knock them off that perch is Creggan.

“I think from Cargin’s point of view, we might have won six championships but we’ve been beaten in (finals) more than we’ve won.  There’s never a confidence with Cargin going into a championship match, this one here in particular, I would say a lot of people are more in hope that we win it.

“It’s coming up against Creggan, they’re there for the first time in a while and they have enthusiasm and they’ve been knocking on the door.  They’ve won minor titles, U21 finals and that’s coming now to fruition while some of the Cargin players are coming to veteran stage now.”

Despite being among the main contenders for the McNamee Cup for a generation or more, the Erin’s Own club haven’t developed an air of invincibility.  McGuckin agreed that’s why he is feeling more anxious about Sunday’s final: “We’ve never gone into any game in the championship at any stage with total confidence to say we’re going to win this.  It’s just not there and historically it’s down to that.

“Cargin have the experience and Creggan are going to be playing in front of the biggest crowd they’ve ever done as well as this teams first championship final.  They don’t know what it feels like and they could really take to it or they might be overcome by it.

Despite the uncertainty, McGuckin told us that he feels the squad are better positioned than they have been in a while going into a final: “Historically Cargin have had to dominate games 60/40 to win games.  This year has been different.  They went behind against St Galls on several occasions.  They were hit by four goals and they kept plugging away.  Cargin teams in the past would have collapsed.”

So who’s going to win?  Off course the legendary Erin’s Own man was backing his side but says if push comes to shove, they’ll take defeat in the manner it should be: “Because it is their first time, we would hope to be magnanimous in defeat but if I had to put money on it I would be backing Cargin.  If I was to predict a score, I’d say three or four points.”  McGuckin laughed when he continued: “There’ll be a lot of Novena’s said between now and Sunday.  I’m lucky enough I live over in Ballymaguigan and I can go into hiding a bit should the worse happen but you would still put your hand out and say ‘boys well done’ but you would do it through gritted teeth.

“At the end of the day, all you can hope for is a good sporting game and may the best team win… long as it’s Cargin.”

Kevin Madden is facing a good friend in Sunday’s final

Managers View

Creggan’s, Kevin Madden….

By Brendan McTaggart

Now in his third year in charge, Kevin Madden has already written his name in the annals of Creggan history by guiding the Kickhams to their first championship final in 41 years.  It’s already been close to a perfect season for the Creggan men and Madden told us that they earmarked winning the league amongst other objectives at the start of the year: “Wining breeds confidence but I’m the type of manager that wants to win every match I’m involved with but look I sat down with the players at the beginning of the year and they set four objectives.  The Championship, that was our priority, the senior league, the O’Cahan Cup and the Reserve Championship.  We have three of those and now the biggest one of all awaits us on Sunday.

“In terms of development and progress and where we wanted to be coming into the final, it has gone very well.

“As a manager you want to see your team progressing, developing and I think the word is maturing.  We’ve used the league wisely to blood new players and we’ve used it to obviously win as many games as we can, especially against the bigger teams.  It turns out we’ve went on and won the league but in terms of development, it’s been important.  Will it make any difference when the ball is thrown in on Sunday?  Absolutely not but it’s been a good learning curve for the boys, being able to see games over the line.”

With a victory already gained over Sunday’s opponents in the O’Cahan Cup final, Madden strongly refuted any suggestion that result would have any bearing on Sunday’s contest: “Absolutely not.  Neither team was going out to lose that game but at the same time both teams had personnel missing and the O’Cahan Cup isn’t Championship intensity but we were happy to have won it.”

Championship run….

Creggan kicked off their campaign with a comprehensive win over fellow south west rivals Ahoghill but while the score line suggested a big victory, the Kickhams manager told us they didn’t get things all their won way: “We always treat whatever opponent we come up against with the upmost respect.  We knew how tricky Ahoghill can be, in particular when they’re in a game.  Like that match was only 0-9 to 0-5 at half time and they missed a good goal chance.  It wasn’t all plain sailing but we got our game going in the second half and the score line maybe did flatter us in the end but at the time, it was a good statement whenever we had them under the cosh that we were able to put them away.”

Their semi-final victory against St Johns probably reflected how much Madden’s team have progressed this year.  The Johnnies had been earmarked for at least a return to the decider and Creggan were comfortable two point winners on the day having controlled the game.  Madden told us that their contest against the Corrigan Park side in mid-August helped them in their preparation for last four encounter: “I think in previous years we were able to turnaround games like that but when it came to the championship that wasn’t really something that stood by us.  That game in particular, we were something like 1-5 to no score after about ten minutes but we did begin to get our football going and mange to sneak the win on the day.

“For us coming into the championship, it was about not letting St John’s getting that type of start again.  The big thing for us coming into the championship was being able to beat St John’s, a top four team who would have aspirations of winning the championship.  Being able to match and surpass their intensity.  Although we only won that game by two points, we dominated that game and really stood up.

“Two points is a dangerous lead.  Just ask St Gall’s and given how dominant we were in that match, I would have liked to have been further ahead.  At half time we had kicked seven wides and St Johns hadn’t kicked any but we played well and showed a strong resolve and mentality when St Johns did get themselves back into a position where they challenge for the game, we were able to break that momentum and kick on.”

A dual club….

With the hurlers having reached the Intermediate championship decider, the pressures of being involved in a dual club would have increased.  Madden told us how he has dealt with it thus far: “It’s been good.  There’s no point saying it hasn’t been challenging because it has.  Particularly when your faced with maybe two hurling games and two football games and all the training sessions within a two or three week period.  For a while there it was absolutely crazy but that’s when a bit of common sense has to come into play.  You need to realise when boys need managed and need a rest rather than training and obviously working together, closely with both setups is important.  You cant have division within a club like Creggan, they’re too tight and its not healthy to have divisions.  There’s such an overlap of players, I think in the football panel there’s 16 or 17 players who all play hurling as well.  It’s important that the football team are wanting them to do well at hurling and the hurling team are wanting them to do well at football.  We needed to all work together to get the best out of both.”

With Sunday being the first all south-west final in Antrim history, the Creggan manager is probably better placed than anyone to comment on it: “A Portglenone man living in Moneyglass and managing Creggan, brings its own challenges but this is a novelty final.  It’s unique but I think for both communities it will be incredible.  It will be tense, there’s obviously an intense rivalry between the two teams but for Antrim county as a whole and even for people from Derry and Tyrone, it’s going to draw a massive, massive crowd and a massive interest which is brilliant.  It’s bringing huge public interest but for us its another game of football and it’s all about performing to the best of our ability.  In terms of the occasion for both communities and both clubs, its magic.”

The Creggan manager is well aware of Cargin’s threats and improvements made through the season and Portglenone native told us what he’s expecting while adding his side aren’t happy just to get this far: “I’m expecting a very different Cargin.  I saw them out here a few weeks ago against St Galls and they looked to me like a team who were improving and a team that have players coming back from injury.  They have recent success with winning championship finals and they can bring that as well so we’re expecting a very tense, exciting encounter with both teams really going at it.  Nobody wanting to lose but both teams going for the win.

“I’ve been about teams and seen enough teams who were almost just happy to have got to a final and have maybe been caught up a bit on the occasion and the hype.  In terms of my fella’s, they’re an incredibly focused bunch and they are very mature from where we were at two years ago from playing Cargin in the championship.  There’s a different mentality there and a different focus.  Yes, Creggan haven’t been in a final in 41 years and this will be new to them but these guys all have big game experience whether it be McRory Cup Finals or playing at county level and a lot of them have played in Croke Park.  The big day shouldn’t phase them and they’re definitely capable.”

The friendship test…

The two opposing managers on Sunday bring another element to the game.  They’ve been in opposite dugouts before in the championship with Madden forming part of Liam Bradley’s team when Glenullin defeated Cassidy’s Bellaghy in 2007 after a replay while Madden’s performance off the bench in 2000 almost did enough for Antrim to defeat a Derry team managed by the legendary Eamon Coleman and Cassidy in his backroom team.  Anthony Tohill catching a Sheeny McQuillan free before it could go over the bar in the last minutes of the game.  A lesser mortal or a smaller man wouldn’t have got near it but the two managers have also worked together and have forged a friendship.  That friendship will be tested to the limits on Sunday: “I was Damian’s assistant manager in Derry and worked under him for two years.  It’s fair to say we’ve become good friends and barely a week wouldn’t go by that we wouldn’t talk about football over the phone, albeit the last ten months have been a bit more guarded.

“About two months into taking Cargin Damian rang me, we were just chewing the fat about different teams in Antrim and he talked about the possibility of he and I possibly trading DVD’s on other teams.  I had to remind him that the rivalry between Creggan and Cargin is just as fierce as the rivalry between Bellaghy and Lavey, the Loup and Ballinderry or any of those.  If there was any DVD’s seen crossing the border there would be lynch mobs after us so things cooled down after that but look Damian and I are friends and we will remain friends after Sunday.”

Cassidy feels his team are ready for the Creggan challenge

Manager’s View

Cargin’s, Damian Cassidy…..

By Brendan McTaggart

Cargin manager Damian Cassidy is a man who needs little introduction to most people.  Five Derry Championships and one Ulster Club as a player with Bellaghy in a medal ridden club career along with a Celtic Cross from 1993 and playing a major role in Derry’s success in lifting Sam Maguire.  As a manager, he remains the last manager to guide Bellaghy to a Derry championship, that coming in 2005 before crossing the Sperrins into Tyrone and having more success with Clonoe O’Rahilly’s, lifting the championship crown in ’08 and ‘13 before taking the reins at Cargin for the 2018 season.  Final defeat with Bellaghy came in ’04 and ’07 and an Ulster Club decider defeat to St Galls in ’05 while a loss to Coalisland in 2011 as the O’Rahilly’s boss, in his own words are: “Hard to forget about” but in a way, they’ve shaped the manager he has become today.

His first season at the helm of the Erins Own men sees the Toome side return to the county decider and while they haven’t been ripping up the trees during the league, as Cassidy told us, Cargin’s 2018 league campaign should be put into perspective: “If you were in Tyrone and you finished sixth or seventh in the league you would still be in with a reasonable chance of winning the championship.  It seems to be slightly different in Antrim and the commentary is different with the senior league where if you’re lying third, like where we are, its viewed as not having a good campaign.  I personally think that to have been down five and up to seven players in some league games, we have turned in a very decent campaign on the back of having a panel decimated.

“The upside off course is there’s been a lot of younger players introduced and gained invaluable experience.  That’s massively important for Cargin never mind the short term.  To have fresh players coming into a team can rejuvenate the older players at the same time.

“I certainly think we had a few results you wouldn’t be caring about but at the same time in the overall context of the season with the panel being stretched to it’s limits it’s been a decent campaign.”

O’Cahan Cup….

Fixture scheduling has been a hot topic within the county all season.  Everyone has there own opinion but the Cargin manager told us they made the most of the situation they were presented with: “The only criticism I would have of the league would be the lack of real fixtures coming into the championship but that’s out of our control.  We played St Galls in the last league game and there was a significant break until the championship.  I found that unusual from the experiences I’ve had previously and it meant having to go and try to get friendlies but fortunately we had agreed to change the date of the O’Cahan Cup Final with Creggan to two weeks before the Lamh Dhearg and that was fortunate enough in terms of timing to have a meaningful game coming into the championship.”

The Bellaghy native told us their focus from day one was always on the championship and the business end of the season but more impressively, the want for improvements and development within the squad has been initially player driven as Cassidy told us: “Leagues are good to win and I’m not showing any disrespect to the league and I wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity to win the league if it was there to do it.

“We sat down with the players at the start of the season and they identified the areas of development that had to occur within the team.  It did require a bit of a shift and I’m not saying we’re in a position where we’re completely happy with what we’re doing.  I don’t think you ever are.  It’s taking time but particularly over the last eight to 10 weeks that progress has started to happen at a rate that you would want it to.

“If you are used to doing a particular thing with a ball, it takes practice and repetition to get players to realise the change when it matters and the league provided that opportunity.”

The injury list within the Cargin camp has shown little signs of improving but Cassidy went on to say they have played a positive role within his squad and aided development both physically and mentally amongst the Erins Own players: “When we came in to the championship against Lamh Dhearg, we were missing Gerard McCann, John Carron, Kieran Close and Marty Kane.  None of these players have had significant game time.  Kieran’s just been coming back from an injury and has still been struggling.  He missed the last game over the head of it.

“The injuries are still there but not at the same level as they were.  They are still a major factor but we’ve become accustomed to it and I suppose that’s one of the aspects the league has developed for us.  We’re used to going into games missing four and five players in a match and it’s nothing new.  We’ve come to terms with it and the panel have shown tremendous resolve and resilience to absorb those injuries.  There aren’t many panels could deal with losing the quality of players we had missing going into the Lamh Dhearg game and the replay game.  Boys that have a reputation for delivering in big games and it speaks volumes for the panel that they’ve taken this on the chin and dealt with it.”

The Championship run….

Three championship matches in as many weeks would have plenty of managers baulking at the thought but Cassidy told us they welcomed the replayed fixture with Lamh Dhearg: “The extra game with Lamh Dhearg, there is no doubt, it’s been beneficial to us.  It’s allowed us to bed more things in to our game and within the team.  Without that extra game I don’t think we would have beaten St Galls.  We just didn’t have enough football miles behind us at the right time of the year.  The way the championship has gone has been to our advantage.  They’ve all been tough games and they’ve really tested us.

“It’s developed a resolve within the team.  These players decide when it’s over.  Having that type of quality and self-belief to play to the final whistle is a great quality to have within a team.  We know that in a game that goes to the wire in the last three or four minutes, we know we can deliver.  It’s a very strong mental place to be in.

“There was no madness about it.  There was no hoofing the ball or doing stupid things.  We were still pressing looking the ball and stuck fairly closely to what we were wanting to do and dug out those opportunities.  Further evidence that the players were using their football intelligence and decision making to their benefit under a pressure situation.”

Cassidy on Creggan….

A meeting with Creggan and a chance to get their hands on the crown they relinquished in 2017 lays ahead for Cassidy’s men.  The Cargin manager gave us his assessment of their final opponents: “They’ve progressed this season and have been on a steady upward curve from a couple of years ago.  This year they decided to give the league a real big push and that’s been important for them.  We met them in the O’Cahan Cup Final and look, it’s a subsidiary competition.  I’m certainly not getting too vexed about that.  I’ve played in quite a few of those in Derry and I can tell you I haven’t lost too many nights sleep over them but it was a useful game for us.  We played the game with a shoestring squad and they conjured up two good goal opportunities which proved to be the difference but if you were to sit down and watch the game again, there wasn’t much between the sides.

“They’re there on merit but I don’t think they’ve had the toughest of draws to get to a championship final to be truthful about it.  Ultimately like everything else, there comes a time when you meet your maker and Cargin’s going to be the team that will be the acid test for them.  We know what we’ve got in the box and the attitude and mentality to respond to adversity and that’s going to be Creggan’s test.”

Cassidy is no stranger to club rivalries.  There is little love lost between his native Bellaghy and Lavey and while the Cargin manager acknowledged the uniqueness of the situation and everything that comes with a derby final, he told us his players remain 100% focussed: “There’s no question about that and it brings a unique ingredient to the game with an almost carnival atmosphere to the game from both communities.  It’s part of the GAA, the craic and the fun and slagging that comes along with it but it’s all good-hearted stuff.  The real serious stuff begins when the ball’s thrown in on Sunday.  It’s about footballers making smart decisions on the ball and that will win the game on Sunday.”

Harry Bateson remembers the boys of ’54

Antrim Senior Football championship preview

Cargin v Creggan

Harry Bateson is a bit of a legend around Creggan, and for good reason. Eighty-two year old Harry is just one of the two remaining survivors of the Creggan team who won the championship back in 1954, and the only one still resident in the parish. He is still a keen follower of the game and is seen around the Creggan ground on a regular basis. Harry comes from good stock for his Uncle Pat McKeown was a member of the first Creggan team to win a senior title back in 1943 and was also a member of the Antrim hurling team who reached the All Ireland Senior Hurling final that same year.

On Tuesday evening Creggan had a bit of a get together down at the club where flags, hats and headbands were on sale and some of the women in the club made banners to hang around the parish in the build up to Sunday’s big game. Harry was there on the night so I took him into a quiet corner and had a chat about the glory days of ’54

Saffron Gael – What position did you play in ’54 Harry?

Harry Bateson – Right half back.

SG – Who did you play in the final that year and where was it played?

HB – Oh it was St John’s in Casement Park, only the second final to be played there. Casement only opened in 1953 so it was a big thrill to get playing there. We beat O’Connell’s in the semi-final there as well and St John’s beat Rossa in the second semi-final that was played after our game. I can mind watching their game and I thought to myself when we got home, we’ll have bother beating that St John’s team.  By Heavens I’ll tell you something, we come out that day and every man played their heart out and the St John’s men started to argue among themselves. What I mind most was a St John’s man got the ball out on the wing and sent it in across our square. They had a big fellow, Gerry Burns they called him, and he got the ball and I could see nothing only a goal. He hit a pile-driver and it hit our goalkeeper Brian McNally as fair on the side of the head as it could hit him, and the ball bounced away out the field, and we went up the to the other end and Joe scored a goal. As far as I mind it was a low scoring game that day, I think there was about two points in it so that goal was vital.

SG – Can you remember much about your team mates on the day Harry, who played well?

HB – Oh well…. There was Patsy Totten, Brian McAteer and Fr Malachy Murphy, but to be fair they all played well.

EA7I1587A photo of the Creggan team of 1954. The photo was not taken on the day and unfortuantely Harry could not be there the day it was taken

SG – Do you remember what the team was on the day Harry?

HB – Oh I do indeed. Brian McNally was the goalkeeper, Texas they called him for a nickname. Charlie Byrne was right back, Paddy Hughes was full-back and Henry Quinn was left back. I was right-half back, Kevin Kelly was centre back and Vincey Totten was left-half.

Brian McAteer and Patsy Totten were midfield and Joe Coogan, Fr Malachy Murphy and Patrick McLarnon, that had the shop, was the half forward line. Mickey Coogan, Dan McAteer and my brother Joe was the full-forward line. My uncle Patrick (Pat McKeown of 1943 fame) came on for Patrick McLarnon.

SG – Can you remember much about the build up to the final Harry?

HB – I was just saying to a fellow there, there was very little build up compared to now. The training that we done was just out there on the auld field kicking football every evening.

SG – What can you remember about the day of the final Harry? Did you go to Casement on a bus?

HB – We did aye, but we came home in cars. After we won Fr Gerry McAteer and Charlie Boyle took us to Hall’s Hotel in Antrim and bought us all a feed. There was no great celebrations when we got home to tell you the truth. I just come up the road here. I didn’t drink at the time but there might have been three of four men in the auld hut and a wheen more over in Marron’s but there was hardly anybody on the team that were drinkers back then. But you know them memories never leave you. I mind more about then that I do about what happened here two weeks ago.

SG – Harry do you have any memories of the 1943 championship win?

HB – I can just about mind it. The final was played out there on the auld field and I’m nearly sure it was O’Donnell’s they played. This is all hear-say but I think they drew the first game out here and O’Donnell’s thought the replay would be in the city, but the county chairman at the time, a Ballycastle man, ruled that it had to be played in the country that year and so they got the replay out there again, which they won.EA7I1181AEA7I1597Nobel copy 3

Cargin and Creggan clash in historic final

Northern Switchgear Senior Football Championship Final

Sunday 21st October at 3.30pm at Ahoghill

Erin’s Own Cargin v Kickham’s Creggan

Cargin man Geordie McGuckin previews Sunday’s historic final

All roads will lead to Clooney, Ahoghill on Sunday to catch a piece of history as football fans assemble to witness the first ever Antrim senior football championship final in living memory, to be contested between clubs from the South West division, as near neighbours, Erin’s Own Cargin and Kickham’s Creggan line out to decide the destination of the Mac Namee Cup.

An occasion to savour on a day which will be underlined in the annals of the Saffron County. The attraction of the meeting of near neighbours to determine Antrim senior champions has all the ingredients to attract a huge audience to the Ahoghill venue.

Although both the protagonists share the links of family connections within their respective ranks they are divided by a strong rivalry and the winner will hold the parish bragging rights for the next year at least.

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The Creggan men have made progress in recent years under the watchful eye of former Antrim star Kevin Madden, but following several near misses in the recent past, including a couple of semi-final defeats, they have bridged a 41 year gap to make the senior final for the first time since they lined out against the Johnnies in the 1977 decider.

The Kickham’s, who were playing their football in Division 2 back then, had claimed senior titles in 1943 and 1954, but failed to cope with a very strong St John’s team on that last visit to a county senior final.

Nobel copy 3PCreggan’s Conor Small in action during his team’s semi-final win over St John’s Matthew Gribben - wide

Cargin have been more frequent visitors to county finals day, and since their breakthrough win in 1974 the Toome men have made their way into the senior decider on 17 more occasions, and although more often cast in the gut wrenching role of the bridesmaid they have given refuge to the Mac Namee trophy on seven occasions.

Erin’s Own last brought the Mac Namee trophy back to Toome in 2016 when they retained the title they had claimed the previous year but lost out to St John’s in the 2017 semi-final when the Corrigan Park based outfit dashed their dreams of three in a row.

Creggan have impressed this term and the Kickham’s men having already claimed silverware with the Division One league title, the O’ Cahan Cup, as well as the Reserve Cup already secured and are on course for a unique four timer.

They started in championship mode with a win over Ahoghill and although they did have to dig deep to get the better of the Clooney men in the opening round the previous season there was to be no repetition this time.

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Ahoghill having progressed through the preliminary round with a hard earned win over St Brigid’s stayed in touch in the opening period, but that was to be as good as it was to get for the St Mary’s side as Kevin Madden’s men went on to dominate the second half and run out 4-13 to 0-08 winners to book a semi-final berth.

Last year’s beaten finalists St John’s who had clinically despatched St Teresa’s in a preliminary round affair provided the opposition for Creggan in the semi at a windy Chapel Hill venue, and although the South West side held a four point lead at the break, thanks mainly to a Sam Maguire goal, the advantage gained with the elements at their backs looked decidedly vulnerable with the strong wind against in the second period.

It was backs to the wall for Creggan in the closing thirty minutes as the Johnnies with county star Matthew Fitzpatrick leading the charge looked to battle back, but a clinically despatched Conor Small penalty strike added impetus to Madden’s men and despite the concession of a late goal they held on to breast the line at 2-09 to 1-10 and to claim their first final berth in 41 years.

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Cargin appeared to have a tougher assignment than their near neighbours in their quest to make progress in the championship.

Damien Cassidy’s men had failed to impress in their league campaign and a lengthy injury list, which intervened to force the Bellaghy man to research the strength of his bench, when they faced up to the challenge posed by reigning champions Lamh Dhearg in the opening round.

The Hannahstown men having started in defence of their hard earned title with a 2-15 to 0-09 win gained over St Mary’s Aghagallon arrived in Creggan in good form, and indeed when a brace of Paddy Cunningham goals turned around a six point deficit the reigning champs looked on their way. A point up going into injury time the Cargin challenge appeared to be ending, despite dominating for large periods of the game, until an injury time Tomas Mc Cann point earned Cargin a second bite of the cherry.

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Cargin made no mistake in the replay coming home with a 0-11 to 0-06 victory on the Corrigan sod to ensure a high profile semi-final game with St Gall’s and the huge attendance who travelled to the Creggan venue in expectation were not to be disappointed.

St Gall’s appeared be back to near their best this season, a fact underlined by finishing a very credible runner up in the All Ireland 7s competition at Kilmacud Crokes in Dublin a few weeks previous. The Milltown men had impressed again in their opening round win over Casement’s as they booked a much anticipated semi-final meeting with their biggest rivals Logo T Scullion Contracts copy-Cargin

Cargin - 38In one of the best games of football seen in Antrim for many years Cargin appeared to be on their way out of the championship when facing a six point deficit late in the second half of a classic encounter. After trailing for long periods of the game a late Jamie Gribbin goal had seen the Cargin men draw abreast with the long blast imminent, but when Eoghan Mc Cabe and Michael Pollock responded with points for the Milltown men they seemed set for their first final since 2015. However a dramatic conclusion and an injury time ‘super strike’ saw Tomas Mc Cann score a wonder goal to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a never to be forgotten finish.

Those who have monetary interest in predicting the results of such affairs would suggest that Cargin will enter the game as firm favourites to gain the day but although the Toome men seem to have had focus on the championship from the outset, and recent developments has seen the injury list shortened considerably, a close one is in prospect.

Creggan have taken home the O’ Cahan Cup at the expense of their neighbours in a keenly contested final, and last Sunday’s easy win over the Toome men has brought them to  within touching distance of the league title. However Sunday’s final will be a whole different ball game.

A moment in history awaits and come Sunday evening the Mac Namee Cup will return once more to residence along the shores of Lough Neagh. However the big question is what side of the parish boundary will it reside of the next years and will be the ribbons be green and white or green and gold.

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