Cargin firepower can see them edge past St Gall's in Antrim championship decider
Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship final: Erin’s Own, Cargin v St Gall’s (tomorrow, 3pm, Corrigan Park)
CORRIGAN Park, Glenavy, the middle of the Falls Park – it wouldn’t matter where the latest act in the Cargin-St Gall’s saga was played out tomorrow afternoon, a battle royale awaits every time these most familiar of foes go toe to toe.
Beating the Milltown men in last year’s quarter-final set the wheels in motion for Cargin as they ended their nine-year wait for an Antrim SFC title, the Toome men putting to bed the memory of consecutive final defeats in the two years previous.
But coming up trumps on the big day, the championship decider rather than a dark Saturday night in Ahoghill at the start of September, represents a different challenge altogether.
As reigning county champions, the burden of expectation now rests firmly on the shoulders of the Toome side. Starting as favourites – however slight - against the highly-decorated Milltown men is unfamiliar territory for the Cargin players.
They will also know that St Gall’s have been smarting for the best part of 13 months, waiting patiently for the opportunity to consign the Toome men to the role of also-rans once again, and reassert their own dominance in Antrim by landing a ninth county title in the last decade.
However, getting over the line last year has given Cargin the belief, the confidence that they can get the better of St Gall’s when it matters.
Going into Ulster and putting it up to a Crossmaglen side who came so close to reaching an All-Ireland Club final was further evidence of the huge strides being made under the stewardship of former Derry boss John Brennan.
Both of tomorrow’s combatants boast a serious amount of past and present inter-county talent, and could make changes from the teams that safely navigated the semi-final stage.
An ankle knock forced versatile defender Kevin O’Boyle out of Cargin’s victory over St John’s, while veteran Tony Scullion also played no part after undergoing knee surgery.
O’Boyle is expected to return to the starting 15 tomorrow, while Scullion has resumed training and - although unlikely to start - could feature from the bench.
Kieran Close is one of many threats in a potent Cargin forward line, the former Antrim captain in sparkling form so far as he notched 1-5 in both the drawn quarter-final and replay against Creggan before bagging another five points in seeing off the Johnnies.
Michael Magill is the focal point of the attack and St Gall’s will be keen to cut out his supply line. As ever, the searing pace of Tomas McCann, allied to the attacking prowess of brothers Michael and Paul, ensures Cargin are not short of options when on the front foot.
For St Gall’s, it remains to be seen whether CJ McGourty’s cameo performance against Lamh Dhearg will be enough to earn him a starting berth tomorrow afternoon.
McGourty, who has recently returned from Australia, came off the bench to land four frees as the Milltown men edged past the Red Hands.
Another former Saffron star who could play a part is Aodhan Gallagher. The midfielder is currently teaching in Cardiff and played in the quarter-final win over Portglenone, although he didn’t feature against Lamh Dhearg.
Like Cargin, St Gall’s boast plenty of experience in the forward division in the likes of Karl Stewart, Mickey Pollock, Kieran McGourty and last year’s Antrim skipper Kevin Niblock.
Indeed, right throughout their team St Gall’s boss Paddy McShane can call upon men who know better than most how to win Antrim championships. Jackson McGreevy, Brendan Bradley and Conor Burke are among those who provide the impetus of youth.
Any time these two heavyweights have met in recent times, there has been little to separate them. Expect no different tomorrow.
Erin’s Own boss Brennan will be hoping to maintain his undefeated record in the Antrim championship over two spells in charge of the Toome men (1999-2000 and 2015 to the present day).
Those campaigns have garnered three county titles so far and, with Cargin’s superior firepower looking like giving them the edge, a fourth could be on the cards.