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Creggan end long wait for Antrim SFC final appearance with victory over St John's

Creggan's Kevin Small (11) and Kevin Rice celebrate their team's win over St John's in Sunday's Antrim Senior Football Championship semi-final in Glenavy
Picture by John McIlwaine 
Anthony Gunning at Glenavy

Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship semi-final: Creggan Kickham’s 2-9 St John’s, Belfast 1-10

A 41-year wait ended for Creggan at Glenavy yesterday as they booked their first Antrim SFC final berth since 1977 thanks to a  deserved two-point win over St John’s.

As the wind howled in, it was Kevin Madden’s side who adapted better and a four-point interval lead was the platform they could build their victory on as they managed the game superbly in the second period, dominating around the middle and kicking the scores they needed.

The Johnnies just weren’t allowed to get a grip on this game as their challenge unravelled in the second period with Ciaran Carland sent off for two bookings, while they also lost Micéal Dudley, Liam Laverty and Conor McEvoy to black cards.

While Creggan have come up short at the last four stage on many occasions in recent years, they weren’t about to let this one slip as they dug in and got over the line to the delight of Madden after: “We are over the moon,” he said.

“It’s 41 years since Creggan have been in a final and I’m 41 tomorrow so it’s a nice birthday present. Given the strength of the wind, a four-point lead wasn’t that big, but the main thing was when St John’s got a run of scores, we were able to come back and keep the scoreboard ticking over.”

They were in front within the opening minute when Fintan Burke kicked over, but the Johnnies were on terms when Brian Neeson thumped over a difficult free into the teeth of the gale from distance.

There wasn’t much in this game in the opening quarter with Creggan edging 0-4 to 0-3 ahead thanks to Thomas McCann (two) and David McGuckin as St John’s were to rely on free-takers, Neeson and Paddy McBride, for scores. The Loughshore men grabbed the initiative on 16 minutes however, as, from an advantage, McGuckin played in Sam Maguire whose shot squirmed over the line despite the best efforts of Dudley.

This gave them a bit of daylight as they were able to keep pace with St John’s who had scores from McBride and Matthew Fitzpatrick to close out the half in response to Ruairi McCann and Kevin Small scores as Creggan led 1-6 to 0-5 at the break. Fitzpatrick kicked another excellent point after the restart, but Thomas McCann hit back soon after before Dudley saw black on 41 minutes for an off-the-ball altercation with McGuckin.

Neeson did kick a free immediately, but another black card was brandished three minutes later, this time for Laverty who trailed down Kevin Small. The free was converted by Ruairi McCann. Points from Neeson and McBride either side of Garland’s second yellow on 49 minutes for a challenge on McGuckin gave the Johnnies hope just two adrift, but on 55 minutes, McEvoy pulled down Fintan Burke and was black carded for his troubles with a penalty the award, which Conor Small tucked away.

The Johnnies grabbed a lifeline two minutes later when McBride dropped the ball towards goal and it broke to Ryan McNulty who turned it in to give his side hope at just two behind. Yet they couldn’t get any closer as Matthew Rodgers and McBride swapped late scores as Creggan held firm.

“These boys have learnt from mistakes in the past,” added Madden.

“Today was a step forward and we are delighted to be in the final. A Loughshore derby against Cargin will bring on a life of its own. It will be great for the supporters and the two communities, but for us it’s game of football we want to win.”

There were no complaints from St John’s manager, Gearoid Adams who admitted that his side just didn’t perform on the day: “Four points down at half-time wasn’t the worst thing in the world, I thought we were dealing with it well,” he said.

“To be honest, apart from three or four, our boys didn’t perform. Fair play to Creggan, it will be a good final against Cargin.”

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