McCann goal swings the pendulum in favour of Creggan

NJorthern Switchgear SFC Semi-Final

Creggan 2-9 Portglenone 1-7

A goal from Ruairi McCann, 20 minutes into the second half turned this Senior Football Championship semi-final on its head as Kickham’s Creggan came with a late run to defeat Casement’s Portglenone at Clooney today.

With Casement’s holding a slender one point lead but with the wind behind them the Bannsider’s appeared to be gaining control but Creggan were awarded a free about 40 meters from the Portglenone goal and Ruairi McCann stepped up to take the resulting kick.

The Creggan number 10 had been in great form throughout the contest and had already scored six points(4 frees) so when he stepped up to take this one he looked set to send over the equaliser but his shot dipped at the last minute and ended in the corner of Ryan O’Neill’s net.

Portglenone looked stunned and before they could gather their thoughts and regroup Conor Small raced through for a second goal, minutes after being introduced as a sub and that was that as Creggan took control in the closing stages.

It was Creggan who made the better start to this semi-final with Tiernan McAteer firing over a couple of excellent points and Ruairi McCann pointed a free to leave them three in front with eight minutes on the clock.

Portglenone were forced to start without Niall McKeever and Oisin Doherty, both players injured in Wednesday night’s win over St. Galls but Dermot McAleese made the starting team after being listed in the doubtful category prior to the game.

Peter Duffin came into the starting line-up and looked to be in for a goal scoring opportunity but ran out of road and was closed down before Dermot McAleese got his side off the mark with a point in the 13th minute.

30 seconds later Ruairi McCann restored the Kickham’s three point advantage before Ronan Delargy limped out of the contest to be replaced by Gerard McAleese.

The tackles were going in hard and fast and Conor McCann received a yellow card before Conall Delargy pointed from the resulting free but Ruairi McCann replied with a great point from play and another pointed free for the Creggan men to again extend their lead to four with 21 minutes gone.

With the breeze at their back, Creggan were in control and a point from Kevin Small in the 29th minute moved them further in front and they looked to be heading into the break with a healthy lead.

It wasn’t to be however as Portglenone’s running game with fast movement through the hands finally paid dividends and Niall Delargy was brought down by Marty Johnston as he bore down on goal with Conal Delargy putting away the resulting penalty to leave just two between the sides at the break.

With the breeze gaining in strength and now behind them the momentum looked to have switched in favour of Portglenone and they made a blistering start to the second half with Conall Delargy pointing a free and Caolan Tierney followed with a superb point from play before Michael Hagan converted another free to put them ahead with only seven minutes of the new half gone.

The Casement’s suffered a setback when Fergal O’Kane was shown a Black card following a rash challenge and Ruairi McCann levelled matters from the resulting free as the Bannsider’s introduced Paddy Kelly for Gerard McAleese.

Creggan were beginning to enjoy some success again and Jamie McCann fired to the net in the 11th minute but referee Sean Laverty had already blown for a free which Ruairi McCann despatched between the uprights to edge his side ahead once more

The Ports were now playing with a bit of swagger and confidence however and Caolan Tierney fired over a sublime point from out on the left and Conall Delargy dispatched another free between the uprights to give his side a slender one point lead at the second water break.

A game that appeared to be swinging the way of Portglenone took another turn on the resumption as Paddy Kelly appeared to have extended his side’s lead from a sideline free but his well struck shot came back of an upright and was cleared to safety.

Play switched to the other end and Ruairi McCann’s rather fortuitous goal turned matters on their head once more and Conor Small applied the coup de grace to rub salt into the wound with an excellent finish.

Kevin Rice added a point to move Creggan six clear and Niall McKeever replaced Kieron McKenna as Portglenone made their last role of the dice but there was to be no way back for Barry Dillon’s side.

Peter Duffin replied with a consolation point for the Casement’s and Ruairi Hagan received his side’s second Black card as a bit of frustration crept into the Portglenone play with their opponents seeing out the game comfortably.

This win sets Creggan up with a final meeting with old adversaries Cargin, who defeated Lamh Dhearg in a tempestuous second semi-final at St. Enda’s with the side’s last meeting at this stage of the championship in 2018 when Cargin won a rather uninspiring decider by 0-5 to 0-4.

Creggan: Oisin Kerr, Aidan Maguire, Ricki Johnston, Eunan McAteer, Sam Maguire, Martin Johnston, Jamie McCann, Kevin Rice, Conor McCann, Ruairi McCann, Kevin Small Fintan Burke, Tiernan McAteer, Paddy Coey, Conor Og McCann. Subs: Conor Small for Fintan Burke, Tomas McCann for Martin Johnston, Matthew Rogers for Sam Maguire, Liam Quinn for Kevin Rice

Portglenone: Ryan O’Neill, Johnny Convery, Shane Delargy, Ruairi Hagan, Ronan Delargy, Niall Delargy, Caolan Tierney, Dermot McAleese, Michael Donnelly, Conall Delargy, Kieron McKenna, Ryan Convery, Michael Hagan, Feargal O’Kane, Peter Duffin. Subs: Gerard McAleese for Ronan Delargy, Paddy Kelly for Gerard McAleese, Niall McKeever for Kieron McKenna.

Referee: Sean Laverty (Moneyglass)

Dillon and McNulty don’t mind having a third meeting

Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship

Creggan v Portglenone at Ahoghill – Throw-in 1pm

By Paul McIntyre

The meeting of Creggan and Portglenone brings together two sides that have knocked on the door of the winner’s enclosure in recent years but are still yet to dine at the top table. Creggan came agonisingly close two years ago when they fell to neighbours Cargin by the narrowest of margins while the Casements have to go back to 2009 to their last final, which ended in a crushing defeat as St Galls marched their way to All-Ireland glory.

These sides are no strangers to each other as they face off for the third time in this year’s championship. Creggan recorded a three-point win at Kelly Park before Portglenone got one over their South-West rivals in their final group game.

Barry Dillon address his players over the fence during the half time break in Tuesday evening’s win over St Gall’s

It’s been a testing week to say the least for Casements manager Barry Dillon. After their gruelling encounter with St Galls on Tuesday night, he now must wait on the Friday evenings reserve clash with Lamh Dhearg before finalising his matchday squad.

“After the penalties I looked around the field and it was like a scene from Platoon. Where do we start? I asked myself” said the Magherafelt native before adding that the week has seen his players getting rub downs and physio. It’s a battle that has also left him without the services of three key players. Both Niall McKeever (torn calf) and Dermot McAleese (jaw) left the fray in the first half before Oisín Doherty (knee) also retired injured early against St Galls. Players that would be a massive loss to any team.

 It’s a quick turnaround and Dillon would’ve maybe liked the semi-finals pushed back another few days but he admits after the year that it’s been that it’s “just brilliant to be playing football again”.

On Saturday’s opponents Dillon has the Loughshore side favourites explaining that “they are further down the road than ourselves in terms of development. Creggan are laced with quality and have the experience of a recent county final as well as winning leagues and O’Cahan Cups” before adding that “they would maybe be physically stronger but we’ll still turn up and give a good account of ourselves.”

 In their two group games only three points and two points separated the sides at the final whistle and Dillon expects another tight tussle in Ahoghill. “Games take on a life of their own and the first two games were effected badly by the weather with a storm making good football very difficult in the second fixture but this is knockout football which is a totally different game”.

While Portglenone have never lifted the Padraig McNamee Cup, you have to go way back to 1954 for the last time Creggan Kickhams were Antrim kingpins and Gerard McNulty is the man trusted with the Kickhams latest tilt at championship glory, and on Sunday’s showing against his own club, Naomh Eánna, the signs are promising.

Strong and well organised at the back with both Ricky and Marty Johnston to the fore, dominant in midfield while hard working and industrious up top, could this be the year when they eventually benefit from previous underage success?

Creggan manager Gerard McNulty

When ask before Tuesday’s Portglenone v St Gall’s quarter final who he would like to meet in the semis there was no doubt in McNulty’s mind

“We’d like another wee nip at Portglenone” he quipped without batting an eyelid before adding “we had two great battles with them and to be fair they are well drilled; they’re a good side and they know they’re system works; suits them you know. We played them and we didn’t have the same personnel, so look, I would like to meet them again.”

And then there were four

Northern Switchgear Senior Football Championship semi-final previews

The semi-finals of the Senior Football Championship are scheduled for Saturday and even though these strange times have contravened to restrict attendance those lucky enough to gain admittance at tomorrow’s games are certain to be well entertained.

The first game is at Ahoghill on the always pristine Clooney sod bringing together keen South West rivals, Casement’s Portglenone and Kickham’s Creggan (1.00pm) with the second featuring last year’s finalists, defending champions, Erin’s Own Cargin and Lamh Dhearg at Hightown. (4.00pm).

Casement’s Portglenone v Kickham’s Creggan (Ahoghill 1.00pm)

A place in the 2020 final at stake as keen rivals Casement’s and Creggan line out at Clooney in a game that should be interesting.

Honours were even in the opening group stages with Creggan gaining the verdict at O’Cahan Park in the opening round but the tables were turned in the reverse fixture when Portglenone recorded a 1-06 to 0-07 win on the Staffordstown road.

Little appears to separate these keen rivals but the Casement’s will be keeping fingers crossed that Niall Mc Keever and Dermot Mc Aleese will be declared fit.

Both ‘high fielding’ mid fielder Mc Keever, and playmaker Mc Aleese are central to the Portglenone cause, but Barry Dillon has a strong panel at his disposal including the Delargy brothers, Kieron McKenna, Michael Donnelly, Paddy and Michael Kelly and Michael Hagen so they have plenty of selection options.

Creggan will enter the fray as slight favourites and the Kickham’s are a talented bunch and their manager Gerard McNulty will keep their feet firmly on the ground. Creggan have been knocking on the doorway to success in recent years and came close in 2018 only to lose out to neighbours Cargin in the decider.

The battle for mid field supremacy may well be a telling factor and in this department Conor McCann and Kevin Rice are accomplished performers while the Johnston brothers Ricky and Martin should start again at the heart of their defence with Kevin and Conor Small, Paddy Cooey and the impressive Ruairi McCann leading the attack.

A close one is certainly in prospect, but with doubt hanging over the availability of both Niall McKeever and Dermot Mc Aleese, Creggan are awarded a tentative vote.

Erin’s Own Cargin v Lamh Dhearg (Hightown 4.00pm)

The action moves to Hightown for the second semi-final as St Enda’s play hosts to a repeat of the 2019 decider as reigning champions, Erin’s Own Cargin face last year’s beaten finalists, Lamh Dhearg.

It took a replay and extra time to separate these two last year and tomorrow’s game could be another close affair and another draw certainly can’t be ruled out.

Cargin are unbeaten in  Group 3 of the qualifiers although not over impressive en route.

Damian Cassidy used the ‘round robin’ system to research his panel but when it came to the knock out stages his side were mighty impressive in a facile win over Rossa under the illuminations at Ahoghill on Tuesday evening.

Cargin management gave championship debuts to Sean Og O’ Neill and Ronan Gribbin and both turned in impressive performances and Damian Cassidy has an injury free panel to select from again tomorrow with Justin Crozier, James Laverty, the back in harness Kevin O’ Boyle, the McCann brothers, Michael, Tomas, and Paul, as well as Kevin McShane, Jamie Gribbin, Ciaran Bradley and Pat Shivers amongst those vying for a place in their starting lineup.

It took a late Brendan Herron goal to see the Hannahstown side home against a tenacious Aghagallon in their quarter-final at Corrigan last Sunday and manager, Mairtin Lynch will be looking for a big improvement from his side tomorrow.

John Finnucane, Declan Lynch, Michael Herron and Kevin Quinn are all likely starters in defence with Mark Jordan and Brendan Herron expected to line out at mid-field. Paddy Cunningham, the Murray brothers, Ryan and Conor are all accomplished forwards and Cunningham’s free taking expertise could be a vital ingredient tomorrow if Lamh Dhearg are to avenge last year’s final defeat.

Cargin will start as favourites but this one could go either way but although the Hannahstown men will give this one a real lash the reigning champions may just shade it.

Impressive Cargin coast into the semi-final

Northern SwitchGear quarter-final

Cargin 2-22 Rossa 0-7

Reigning county champions Cargin took another step in defence of their title when they dismissed the challenge of O’ Donavan Rossa to claim a place in the semi-final in Clooney tonight.

A couple of late goals by second half substitutes, Enda McGrogan and Mark Kelly put the icing on a polished performance but the winning margin did not flatter Cargin with the Toome men dominating throughout.

Rossa arrived to the South West in search of victory following their superb win in the senior hurling quarter final at the week end and in search of a place in the football semi-final.

Cargin were in no mood to comply to their wishes however and right from outset they took the game to their opponents and were three points up after 4 minute.

Kevin McShane won the throw in and opened the door for Tomas McCann to open account with Pat Shivers then providing the ammunition for McCann to add another brace.

Rossa got off the mark in the 6th minute through a Sean Pat Donnelly point with Pat Shivers and Brendan Laverty replying at the other end but a stylish long range Stephen Beatty point suggested that Rossa might make a game of it.

They flattered to deceive however and Cargin responded with further points by the excellent Tomas McCann and another from his sibling Michael before David Johnston set up Pat Shivers to make it 0-08 to 0-02.

Cargin continued to dominate after the ‘water break’ and Rossa net minder Michael Byrne was called on to make a splendid save to deny Justin Crozer before Tomas Mc Cann pointed and Pat Shivers added another to move his side 0-10 to 0-02 ahead.

Rossa battled to get into the game and Dominic Mc Enhill grabbed a fine point and Thomas Morgan raced in from the left and shot for goal but Cargin keeper John Mc Nabb made a fine save.

Back came Cargin and a foul on Ciaran Bradley was punished when Pat Shivers delivered the resultant free between the posts and then a slick counter saw David Johnston combine with Kevin McShane and the flying wing back raised white to ensure a 0-12 to 0-03 lead for the Erin’s Own at the end of the opening period.

Rossa started the second half nine points in arrears but the nimble Sean Pat Donnelly offered hope when he punished a foul on Stephen Beatty after two minutes play.

Cargin responded and Michael McCann fired over a fine point and Tomas McCann added another to punish an indiscretion on Ciaran Bradley.

Wing half forward Bradley was causing concern aplenty for the Rossa rear guard and he set up Pat Shivers to add a point before Jamie Gribbin nipped away on the right hand side to split the posts and the reigning champions were in complete control.

The die was well and truly cast as the tie moved into the last quarter as the Rossa challenge wilted with the rigours of the past few days taking their toll on their dual players but Dominic McEnhill added a point and Sean Pat Donnelly followed with another but that was as good as it got.

Cargin finished the game as they had started with Ciaran Bradley and Pat Shivers adding to their ever increasing total and the majority of the traffic was now heading towards the Rossa goal.

James Laverty, Pat Shivers and Jamie Gribbin then combined to open up the way for Enda Mc Grogan to find the net and Pat Shivers raised another white flag to punish a foul on Ciaran Bradley before a David Johnston’s delivery opened the way for Mark Kelly to add a second goal.

Colm Fleming replied  with a consolation score for the gallant Rossa men but Gerard McCann had the game’s final score with his 61st minute point ushering the Erin’s Own men into the semi-final.

Teams

Cargin: John Mc Nabb, Kevin O’ Boyle, Justin Crozier, Brendan Laverty (0-01), David Johnston (0-01), James Laverty, Ronan Gribbin, Kevin Mc Shane (0-01), Michael Mc Cann (0-02), Ciaran Bradley (0-03), Pat Shivers (0-07), John Carron, Jamie Gribbin (0-01), Tomas Mc Cann (0-07), Sean Og O’ Neill

Subs

Enda Mc Grogan (1-00) for S O’ Neill

Paul Mc Cann for M Mc Cann

Marty Kane for B Laverty

Mark Kelly (1-00) for T Mc Cann

Rossa: Michael Byrne, Gavin Mc Grath, Stephen Shannon, Niall Crossan, Gerard Walsh, Christopher Mc Guinness, Richard Gowdy, Stephen Beatty (0-01), Sean P Donnelly (0-03), Dominic Mc Enhill (0-02), Deaglain Murphy, Colm Fleming (0-01), Conal Mc Donnell, Thomas Morgan

Subs

Michael Mc Greevey for G Walsh

Matthew Mallon for S Shannon

Oisin Mc Vicar for C Mc Guinness

Michael Close for T Morgan

Ruaidhri Currie for D Murphy

Referee K Doherty (Rasharkin)

Drama in the Dunsilly Darkness as Casements seal win on penalties

Northern Switchgear Senior Football Championship

Quarter-Final

Roger Casements 0-21 St Galls 0-21 (aet)

Casements win 5-3 on penalties

Tuesday September 1

Brendan McTaggart reports from Dunsilly

Darkness had fallen, bodies were broken.  Hands were on heads and the crowd began to whistle.  Paddy Kelly stood 40 plus yards out on the angle.  He has to have known it was the last kick of the game.  Portglenone and St Galls slogged it out in a quite brilliant game of championship football and it all boiled down to that one moment three minutes into injury time at the end of extra time.

Casements celebrate in the Dunsilly darness after their penalty shoot-out win over St Gall’s.

Kelly was calmness personified and time stood still.  As soon as he made the connection with his cultured right foot, he knew.  The crowd behind him knew and Kelly celebrated before the ball went over the St Galls bar.

The most dramatic of endings and Portglenone had salvaged a draw to force more drama.  Penalties.  Where heroes are made and folklore is written.  Kieron McKenna the man who hit the winning spot kick in almost total darkness to seal Casement’s place in the last four.

To call this game epic would be doing it a disservice.  It’s a cliché but it will never be more fitting, neither side deserved to lose and both sides threw everything they had at each other, including the proverbial kitchen sink.

The sides were tied on 12 occasions throughout the 80 regulation minutes.  The lead exchanged hands six times and the biggest lead either side had was four points – St Galls after a period of dominance in the second half.  The Casement’s held a two point lead when at the death of normal time but St Galls showed their animalistic instincts of never saying die and always finding a way.

The St Galls men weren’t happy at the final whistle.  They felt they had to work that bit harder for their frees during the game.  Looking at the facts, just four of their 21 accumulated points came from placed ball, Portglenone had over twice that.  Looking at the positives, one of, if not thee best player on the pitch wore the famous blue shirt.  Kevin Niblock.  33 years young and playing with the verve of youth and the experience all those years plying his trade on the forward line in the Azzuri Blue or Saffron of Antrim.  If they ever legally allow cloning, Niblock should be put to the top of the queue.  How he’s missed in an Antrim shirt.  He walked off the pitch a broken man both physically and mentally, but he was magnificent.  Four points beside his name, an epic battle with Portglenone full back Shane Delargy, Niblock gave an exhibition.  His running off the ball creates space in the tightest of defences, his physicality creates chances for his teammates while his artistry comes from two wonderful feet.

Kevin Niblock rolled back the years with a great exhibition of football

The Casements were rocked with key players having to come off injured.  Niall McKeever, a midfield colossus and clearly frustrated his body had failed him.  Dermot McAleese, a creative inspiration with his ingenuity from deep.  Piercing runs, dancing feet but he had to go just shy of half time.  It just added to the drama.

St Galls dominated midfield.  Aodhan Gallagher, lording it.  The west Belfast side were on top in the second half and turning the screw.  Four points in as many minutes gave them the lead of the same margin after a draw at half time. 

Portglenone reacted by bringing Paddy Kelly into the fray and how the Casement’s man had an impact.  Michael ‘Scotchy’ Hagan gave St Galls all they wanted and more with his pace, trickery and movement.  Conall Delargy top scored with six points and while five of those were from placed ball, he brought much more to the dance floor. 

At the death of normal time, the Casement’s looked like they had scored the games decisive score when Hagan volleyed over.  It was a chance for goal after a rare slip in the St Galls defence but his instinctive shot gave them a two point lead.

The Milltown men hit back.  First Niall O’Neill halved the deficit and St Galls laid siege on the Portglenone defence in search for the moment, the yard, the score.  They had a chance for goal, Gallagher’s lay off to Niblock but Ryan O’Neill saved Portglenone’s championship bacon. 

Brendan Bradley scored the equalising point for St Galls deep in injury time but his side looked out on their feet in comparison to Portglenone.  The Casements had the pace in attack but the experience, the knowhow and the brilliance of the St Galls defence were keeping them in check.  What else would you expect from a unit led by Sean Kelly? 

Big Niall McKeever goes high to meet the dropping ball

Portglenone held a two point lead at half time of extra time, scores from Conall Delargy and Paddy Kelly edging them ahead after John McCaffrey’s black card.  St Galls found another gear.  The reintroduction of Michael Pollock looked to be a masterstroke as they turned the one point deficit into a one point lead in injury time.

We were at the mercy of referee Eamon McAuley.  St Galls had a chance to double their lead and surely put their name in the semi’s, Bradley stood over a free and his effort came back off the upright from 30 yards.  A pivotal moment in the game.  The clock ticked further into injury time and Casement’s sensed they had one last chance.  St Galls did what they could, slow the game and any momentum Portglenone could gather.  It felt like we were watching a game of rugby, Portglenone going through phases, edging closer with each systematic foul.  Then it came.  Wide on the left, just inside the ’45 and Paddy Kelly’s moment to shine.  He won’t have struck a sweeter free in his career. 

Big Aidso Gallagher gets a fist to the high ball

The full time whistle came with no time for the kick out.  Penalties!  The drama wasn’t finished as St Galls replaced Louis McCormick with Niall O’Neill in goals for the spot kicks.  Portglenone were 3-2 ahead when Pollock stepped up but his effort was saved by Ryan O’Neill and Portglenone had the advantage.  Ruairi Hagan and Brendan Bradley made no mistake with their spot kicks and it was left for Kieron McKenna to inscribe his name in history.  An emphatic finish and how both he and his side celebrated in the darkness at Dunsilly. 

Portglenone sealed their historic win on the birthday of Roger Casement.  Maybe it was always going to be their day.  They have a date with Creggan in the semi’s and their championship continues.

TEAMS

Portglenone: Ryan O’Neill; Johnny Convery, Shane Delargy, Ruairi Hagan; Ronan Delargy, Niall Delargy, Caolan Tierney; Niall McKeever, Michael Donnelly; Conall Delargy, Kieron McKenna, Oisin Doherty; Ryan Convery, Dermot McAleese, Michael Hagan

Subs: Fergal O’Kane for N McKeever (24); Ronan Kelly for D McAleese (30); Paddy Kelly for K McKenna (38); Gerard McAleese for O Doherty (ET – HT)

Scorers: Conall Delargy 0-6 (5f); Michael Hagan 0-5 (2f); Paddy Kelly 0-3 (2f); Niall Delargy 0-2; Oisin Doherty 0-2 (1f); Ronan Kelly 0-1; Gerard McAleese 0-1; Kieron McKenna 0-1

St Galls: Louis McCormick; John McCaffrey, Conaill Murray, Shane O’Hagan; Conor Stinton, Sean Kelly, Mark Kelly; Sean Burke, Aodhan Gallagher; Eoghan McCabe, Thomas Bunting, Kevin Niblock; Michael Pollock, Brendan Bradley, Terry O’Neill

Subs: Colin Brady for C Murray (45); Niall Burns for S Burke (45); Jackson McGreevy for M Pollock (51); Niall O’Neill for M Kelly (51); Conn Doherty for T O’Neill (60); Michael Pollock for T Bunting (ET 5); Ryan Irvine for N Burns (ET5); Niall McCurdy for S Kelly (ET 17)

Scorers: Brendan Bradley 0-7 (4f); Kevin Niblock 0-4; Michael Pollock 0-3; Eoghan McCabe 0-2; Sean Burke 0-1; Aodhan Gallagher 0-1; Terry O’Neill 0-1; Niall O’Neill 0-1; Thomas Bunting 0-1

Referee: Eamon McAuley (Erins Own, Cargin)