McCann magic settled the 2018 decider

Antrim Senior Football Championship final preview

Two years ago Sunday’s finalists met in the 2018 final in Ahogill. A high scoring thriller it was not, but because of the closeness of the scoring it was always compelling. We take a look back at the game through Brendan McTaggart’s match report

Brendan McTaggart reports from Fr McGuigan Park, Ahoghill

Erin’s Own Cargin 0-5 Kickham’s Creggan 0-4

It may not have been the classic contest we had hoped for and for the neutrals in attendance at Fr. McGuigan Park, it won’t last long in the memory. Will that matter to the men from Erin’s Own Cargin? You might get an answer by Tuesday once their done celebrating their eighth Antrim title and third in four years.

Nine scores in 60 plus minutes of football, admittedly is a poor return. For those purists who follow the game and those who made the journey up the Crosskeys Road to the picturesque setting in Cloney, they will all be practising their best Pat Spillane impressions. “Puke Football.”

But this was different. This was a rivalry between two teams who yes, are neighbours but they share the same Parish. The rivalry runs deep, deeper than possibly anything else in the county. Creggan have been in Cargin’s shadow for longer than they care to remember when it comes to football and Sunday was their chance to knock ‘big brother’ off his perch.

The atmosphere before throw in was electric. The patrons were treated to a feast beforehand, Dunloy and St Galls minors putting on an excellent final. A flowing 60 minutes that whetted the appetite. The crowd was already large, by the time the full time whistle blew, it was huge. They were expectant for more of the same but it was never going to be a classic. The tension and magnitude of the contest between these great rivals wouldn’t allow for free-flowing football.

To call the opening quarter cat and mouse would be a huge understatement, neither side showing their full hand while sizing each other up. A reluctance to go for the ‘Hollywood’ ball that would open the final up.

Michael Magill opened the scoring after just over a minute but his tussle with Ricky Johnston was one of the highlights of the game. Cargin tried to pick the target man out on a few occasions but it was a titanic tussle between the two adversaries.

An early goal chance for the Kickham’s was squandered when Matthew Rodgers shot was floated straight to the waiting arms of John McNabb in the Cargin goals. Creggan managed their first score of the final when Kevin Small split the posts in the 11th minute and when the Creggan forward judged the elements to perfection soon after to give the Kickhams the lead, it looked like the Staffrordstown Road side had finally settled into their first final in 41 years.

The Cargin reply was instant. Ciaran Bradley finishing a rare counter attack by the Erin’s Own side in the 20th minute as the wrestle for momentum and authority continued. Big hits, turnovers, packed defences but a hugely intense last 10 minutes followed. Neither side giving an inch and neither looking to change from what they hoped would be a winning formula.

The second half arrived and it was more of the same warfare. The elements had eased but what wind there was blew in the Kickham’s favour. Both teams were guilty of missed opportunities, Creggan more so. Cargin opened a two point lead for the first time in the match when Tomás McCann, he off semi-final last gasp goal fame, landed his first of the match and Bradley doubling his own tally. The pressure was heaped on Creggan but their response was every inch as impressive as you would expect. Marty Johnston finishing a counter by fisting over the bar before Conor McCann repeated the same moments later.

Heading into the final quarter and we were no nearer to finding out where the Pádraig McNamee Cup would reside for the year.

52 minutes and 23 seconds. That’s the time when Michael McCann etched his name into Cargin folklore. This time the score came that settled the first all south-west senior county final. The score that meant Cargin had the bragging rights. At least, that is, until they meet again, and they will. I have no doubt in my mind that this isn’t the last time these two will contest the final again. Creggan came close to fulfilling a dream and realising their potential.

Captain McCann put in an inspired performance for the hour. As his manager described him: ‘A Rolls Royce.’ When I spoke with him during the madness of the celebrations, he was equally as complementary about his gaffer:

“With that man, anything is possible. He gets every inch out of you. He’s meticulous. Nothing you see out there is left to chance to be honest. What you see out there is what we’ve been practising. Ball retention, coming off the shoulder, kick-outs and that. You might think it looks a wee bit hashy but that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That man has everything planned to a tee. Damian could have told you that score before the match started, that’s how good he is.

“We were completely written off and I think that’s what that man wanted too. We had a poor league but we were struggling panel wise with players out. We had some serious injuries, boys out for two and three months at a time and it’s only been the last eight or ten weeks that we’ve had everybody back. Even at that, we were missing three or four main men for the first round and the semi.”

McCann gave us an insight into playing their great rivals when he continued: “Total relief to get over the line.

“You know something and to be fair to both teams, there was a lot of pressure on us and that’s natural. Both teams sort of played within themselves, neither looking to come out and show too much. Keep things tight but that comes from respect.

“It was a heavy hitting game but it wasn’t a dirty game. There wasn’t boys wrestling and hitting off the ball but it was physical. It took a lot out of the legs but I think there’s a mutual respect. We respect them obviously, they’re a very good side but a lot of people wrote us off and we showed experience is everything.”

With the winning score coming relatively early in the game, McCann didn’t realise it was his point that ended up being the match winner: “I didn’t even remember that. It didn’t enter my head being honest. It sort of opened up for me. I cut inside and it went over the black spot. I missed one in the first half with my left but thankfully that one went over. It was very surreal out there. You don’t really remember those things at the time.” The Cargin Captain continued: “We have three or four young boys playing out there who’re in their teens, Jamie Gribben and Ciaran Bradley to name but a couple. We have boys out there who are well fit to be playing at this level and you saw the sort of talent they have.

“Closey (Kieron Close) and the likes coming off the bench gives you a lift. The work he put it, you know you might not realise the work the forwards put it. People will look at the score line and think ‘the forwards didn’t put in a shift’ but they put in as big a shift as anyone.”

Cargin can now look forward to a potential run in the Ulster championship and a date with Gaoth Dobhair of Donegal in the opening round, McCann told us: “We’re in bonus territory now but with Damian, he’ll do the homework on whoever we’re playing and hopefully we can get a run.”

Cargin keep 3-in a row hopes alive

Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship Semi-final

Lámh Dhearg 1-13-3-09 Cargin

Kevin Herron reports from Hightown

Second-half goals from Ronan Gribbin and Pat Shivers ensured that Cargin put behind them an indifferent opening-half as the county champions survived a frenzied finish to book a place in the decider for the third successive season after a 3-09-1-13 win over Lámh Dhearg at Hightown this afternoon.

Lámh Dhearg were the dominant team in the opening half and bounced back from the concession of an early penalty- converted by Tomas McCann to lead 0-06-1-02 at the break.

But Cargin moved back in front through Gribbin and a third goal from Pat Shivers gave them breathing space.

A sweet strike from Paddy Cunningham ensured it was game-on again but tempers frayed as the clock ticked down with Cargin duo Michael McCann and Martin Kane being dismissed along with Lámh Dhearg captain Michael Herron.

The Toome men used their experience to see out time and will face near neighbours Creggan in a repeat of the 2018 final.

Lámh Dhearg were hit with a double blow pre-match as they lost influential duo Marc Jordan [illness] and Eoin McKeown- who recently signed for Ballymena United and was forced to end his involvement.

The Hannahstown men got off the mark early through a Paddy Cunningham free but on 4 minutes conceded a penalty.

Paul McCann curled a shot which came off the large post with Tomas McCann taking a tumble under pressure from Declan Lynch and referee Colm McDonald signalled for a penalty.

McCann himself seized responsibility and sent John Finucane the wrong way to give his side the early advantage.

Paddy Cunningham responded with a free and played a role in levelling the game up, floating a high ball in on top and Terry McCrudden smashed it over from close range.

Lámh Dhearg edged ahead for the third time with Cunningham converting his third free and Ben Rice steered over a further point after good attacking play from Kevin Quinn to make it 0-05-1-00.

Tomas McCann closed the deficit after claiming an advanced mark and converting- though Cunningham added his fourth free of the half after Ryan Murray was obstructed on rout to goal.

Jamie Gribbin got on the end of a Tomas McCann through ball to narrow the gap to the bare minimum once again.

Just before the interval the Lámhs were reduced to 14-men for a ten-minute spell after Paddy Cunningham was shown a black-card for a trip on Tomas McCann.

Cargin were unable to take advantage in the remaining minutes of the first-half though and trailed 0-06-1-02 at the interval.

With an extra-man advantage for the first two and a half minutes Cargin finally made their numerical advantage work.

Three minutes after the restart Martin Kane slipped the ball inside to Ronan Gribbin and despite John Finucane attempting to panic the defender; Gribbin kept his composure and stabbed the ball home to give his side a 2-02-0-06 lead.

Terry McCrudden responded after converting an advanced mark with Kevin McShane landing a point in return.

Paddy Cunningham kicked his fifth free of the contest after returning to proceedings and a third point from Terry McCrudden levelled proceedings for the second time after a super pass from substitute Deaglan Smyth.

Cargin got their noses back in front through a fine Tomas McCann score and further scores followed through John Carron and a double from Pat Shivers- one from a free and the other from play.

Just after the second-half water break Cargin sliced through the Lámh Dhearg defence with great success.

Paul McCann played a one-two with brother Tomas and then picked out Jamie Gribbin in space, Gribbin took the return pass and offloaded to Pat Shivers who rocketed a shot into the roof of the net to ensure Cargin had one foot in the final with a 3-07-0-09 lead.

Lámh Dhearg were in need of an instant response but picked off three quick scores in succession two through ace marksman Cunningham- one coming from a free and the other an angled point from play after an intelligent Ryan Straney pass with Conor Murray firing over a quick free in-between times.  

Pat Shivers replied with a free but on 54 minutes it was game on again at Hightown. Michael Herron floated a long ball in which was helped on by Conor Murray, Brendan Herron was able to get a hand to it and direct into the path of Paddy Cunningham who feined a shot and then picked his spot in the corner of the net to narrow the gap to just two-points (1-12-3-08).

Any momentum the Hannahstown side may have gained was interrupted as trouble brewed between both sets of players and consultation was needed between the officials.

After taking advice from umpires and linesman the end result was red-cards for both team captains Michael Herron and Michael McCann. Martin Kane was then dismissed as the game would conclude with 13 against 14.

Paddy Cunningham kicked his eighth free of the afternoon to put just a point between the sides and set-up a grandstand finish.

However his side were unable to snatch a dramatic leveller from John Finucane off target on a venture up-field.

Instead Pat Shivers would land Cargin’s insurance point with a late, late free to ensure that the county Champions would prevail after a dramatic afternoon in Hightown.

The final in two-week’s time will be a repeat of the 2018 decider between Cargin and Creggan with high hopes that a more high scoring encounter lies in store.

Lámh Dhearg: J Finucane, M McGarry, D Lynch, P Mervyn, K Quinn, M Herron, B Rice (0-01), P Fitzsimons, R Straney, D Dunne, C Murray (0-01), R Murray, P Cunningham (1-08, 0-07f), B Herron, T McCrudden (0-03, 0-02f). Subs: D Smyth for B Rice (HT), A McAufield for M McGarry (49), F Dugan for T McCrudden (60+3).

Cargin: J McNabb, K O’Boyle, J Crozier, M Kane, D Johnston, J Laverty, R Gribbin (1-00), K McShane (0-01), M McCann, C Bradley, P Shivers (1-04, 0-03f), J Carron (0-01), J Gribbin (0-01), T McCann (1-02, 1-01f), P McCann. Subs: S O’Neill for D Johnston (40), G McCann for K McShane (48).

Referee: Colm McDonald (St Galls)

Stephen Thornton of Thornton Roofing presents a cheque to Paddy McIlwaine from the Saffron Gael prior to yersterday’s SFC semi-final between Cargin and Lamh Dhearg at Hightown. The Saffron Gael thank Stephen and Thornton Roofing for their continued sponsorship of the site.

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.