Senior Football Championship final
Sunday 3-30 (Corrigan Park)
Erin’s Own Cargin v Lamh Dhearg
Tomorrow’s Senior Football championship final at Corrigan Park brings together two sides who will need no introduction to each other. Holders Erin’s Own take on the winners from two years ago, Lamh Dhearg and has all the makings of a good final.
The Hannastown side have trod a longer and more difficult path to the decider having accounted of St. Mary’s Ahoghill in a preliminary round game at tomorrow’s venue with the Cloney men still in contention at half time before Lamh Dhearg stepped it up after the break to win with plenty to spare.
In the first round proper the Toome side didn’t get it all their own way against division 2 champions, O’Donovan Rossa but had five points to spare in the end against the Shaw’s Road side while Lamh Dhearg faced what looked like a much stiffer test against Kickham’s Creggan.
Lamh Dhearg powered into the semi-final of the Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship after a 1-13-0-11 win over Creggan at Chapel Hill. An exhibition of shooting from Paddy Cunningham accounted for 0-10 of his sides scores throughout the sixty minutes.
Cargin looked to have been handed the more difficult draw when they faced old adversaries and former All Ireland winners, St. Gall’s in the semi-final. A year earlier it took a quite spectacular late goal from Tomas McCann to separate the sides at the same stage and many felt that this one could be as close.
The St. Gall’s challenge never really materialised however as Cargin reached their sixth decider in the space of seven years after brushing aside the challenge of the Milltown side with relative ease.
The men from Toome led 0-05-0-04 at the break in a half that lacked the quality and intensity that many of the spectators came to expect.
Cargin began to pull away with a goal at the beginning of the second period through David Johnson and had five-six points to spare for the majority of the second period, until substitute Ciaran Close scored his side’s second goal.
On the other side of the draw Casement’s Portglenone had been making many sit up and take notice when they beat St. John’s after an exciting replay at Colaiste Feirste with Lamh Dhearg waiting in the wings to face the winner in the semi-final.
The sides met at Creggan in the first of what transpired into a semi-final marathon and it took three games to separate a young Casement’s and eventual winners Lamh Dhearg in a trilogy of games that are likely to be talked about long after Sunday’s final.
Leading by four as the game in Creggan went into time added on, Lamh Dhearg were stunned as Paddy Kelly fired over a point before Conall Delargy rifled home from the spot to earn his side a replay.
And so it was onto the ‘Dub’ for the replay and another twist in what was becoming an intriguing story. The sides finished level again after extra time with the game set to be decided by a free kick shootout. After two sessions of free kicks the sides were level at 9-9 with the intervention of County chairman Ciaran McCavana bringing matters to a halt.
Paddy Cunningham was about to start the third series of kicks when County chairman McCavana approached referee Colm McDonald and after consolation with both managers it was agreed that a second replay would be required to see who will advance to meet Cargin in the County final.
Quinn Park, Ballymena was the venue for the second replay and in wet and difficult condition it was a Paddy Cunningham inspired Lamh Dhearg who finally emerged victorious. Despite narrowly trailing 0-05-0-04 at the interval a quick-fire double from the reliable corner-forward on the restart saw his side through to Sunday’s Northern Switchgear decider with Cargin on a scoreline of 2-08-0-09 after over 200 minutes of drama and ecstasy over the course of nine days.
While Lamh Dhearg have made the journey to the well on more occasions than they would have liked over the past two weeks Cargin have been waiting patiently in the wings but no doubt fine tuning their preparations for tomorrow’s final with nothing likely to have been left to chance.
Cargin have looked solid and difficult to beat on the occasions I have saw them this year and manager Damien Cassidy has a good blend of youth and experience at his disposal as he plans to deal with the challenge of the ‘marathon’ men.
John McNabb, Marty Kane, James Laverty, Tony Scullion, Justin Crozier, John Carron, Michael Magill and the McCann brothers, Michael, Paul and Tomas will be treading a well-worn and familiar championship path while David Johnston, Jimmy Gribbin, Gerard McCorley, Ciaran Bradley and Pat Shivers should add youthful exuberance to the Cargin challenge. The Cargin cause has been further boosted by the return of Kevin O’Boyle and Ciaran Close following lengthy spells out through injury.
Lamh Dhearg, like their opponents have many players who have tasted the white heat of championship before and are unlikely to be overawed with tomorrow’s occasion. John Finucane, Declan Lynch, Michael Herron, Kevin Quinn, Conor and Ryan Murray and the ever reliable Paddy Cunningham bring a wealth of experience while Owen McKeown, Ben Rice and Terry McCrudden have the legs to trouble the Erin’s Own defence.
The loss of towering mid-fielder Pearse Fitzsimmons to injury in the first replay against Portglenone was a big blow for Lamh Dhearg and they are likely to carry a few niggling injuries into Sunday’s final. Fatigue could be a factor but against that they are the side with momentum.
The game could turn into a shootout between two of the best finishers in the county, Tomas McCann for Cargin and Paddy Cunningham for Lamh Dhearg though both sides have a number of players who can influence the outcome.
Cargin though get a tentative nod to collect their second successive title but don’t be too surprised if it finishes all square. Mairtin Lynch will be saying “perish the thought!”