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…..so long as it’s Cargin.”