Late drama as last two champions draw
Northern Switchgear Antrim SFC quarter-final: Erin's Own, Cargin 0-13 Lámh Dhearg 2-7
AS Lámh Dhearg trudged off at half-time, it looked nearly inconceivable that, even with the wind at their backs, they could turn things around against Cargin.
The reigning champions could not have been much worse in the opening period. To define the amount of ball they lost as ‘turnovers' does a disservice to the word, for they spent much of the 30 minutes just handing it to a green shirt.
And they were, up until that point, being punished for it. Michael McCann was the dominant figure at midfield in a superb display. Kieran Close had three points and young Ciaran Bradley had two, while on the other wing Jamie Gribbin was influential. And up top, the Lámhs just couldn't lay a hand on Michéal Magill.
The former Antrim man was just too much physically for Aaron McAufield. Everything bar one ball stuck like glue to the Cargin man. He kicked two scores and had a hand in another two as the wind-assisted Toome men went in 0-9 to 0-3 ahead at the break.
It was a serious wind but, with Lámh Dhearg having operated with Terry McCrudden as their sweeper in the first half, you felt that them going man-for-man, as they had to do, would only create space on the break for Cargin.
The second half materialised nothing close to the form line of the first though. Lámh Dhearg improved, but their opponents met them halfway down the hill. Cargin's performance dropped off massively and left Damian Cassidy exasperated at the final whistle, his side lucky still to be alive after Tomás McCann rescued them with a brilliantly taken 63rd minute free.
Cargin had led the whole way from Kieran Close opening the scoring off Kevin O'Boyle's deft pass in the second minute until stoppage time, when Lámh Dhearg worked a superb goal that looked to have snatched it.
Ryan Murray was hauled down in a scoreable position but he hopped to his feet and played in the overlapping Mark McGarry. Donach McKeever left Paddy Cunningham to go and meet him, and McGarry popped the pass at the perfect second.
But there was still so much for Cunningham to do. 15 yards out, the angle suited him. The second it left his left boot, you knew it was past John McNabb.
That put the Hannahstown men 2-7 to 0-12 ahead in front of a good crowd in Creggan, but when Michéal Magill was needlessly fouled just inside the Lámhs' 45', Tomás McCann coolly drilled through the wind from the turf to salvage a replay, which will most likely take place at the weekend.
Lámhs' goalscorer Cunningham admitted afterwards that they didn't deserve to win the game on the back of their terrible first half, while Damian Cassidy, a two-time Ulster club winner as a player, was aghast at his side's second period performance.
“That point at the end was well merited, but the overall feeling is really massively frustrated with that performance in the second half,” said Cassidy.
“Just too many simple errors. We were in a position of controlling the game, six up at half-time.
“You can't account for the goals. You couldn't really call them manufactured – you have to give Cunningham a bit of credit for having that bit of flair to go for it, but for that to come off at this level of football doesn't reflect well on our defence.
“The first goal was an absolute car crash. A simple ball on the edge of the square should have been dealt with easily, but for the player to be unchallenged, very simple stuff. The video – if it is videoed – will allow us to see all that.
“There are two positions. Fair play to Tomás for standing up to take the free and put it away, however as a team we have to be massively disappointed with our second half performance.”
The ‘car crash' he refers to swung the entire tenor of the game. There were five points in it six minutes into the second half when Cunningham took a shot to nothing from out on the sideline.
While Cassidy would be disappointed by how his goalkeeper and full-back handled it, Michael Herron deserves great credit. He took the step back and timed his leap to perfection to get above the pair of them and palm into the net.
With the wind in their favour, the city side were suddenly two down and with 25 minutes to go and salvage it. Eamon McKeown continued to be lively, while Declan Lynch had a strong game from midfield. They were also helped by the change at full-back at the interval, with Pádraig Mervyn coming in and doing a fine job on Magill in the second period.
Cargin were able to hold them at bay, and Tomás McCann seemed to have settled them when he kicked them two ahead with seven minutes to play with a beauty of a free.
But for a team with such experience they made some poor errors in attempting to close out the game, and with an unfussy referee who let everything go, it offered Lámh Dhearg the chance to turn ball over and build chances.
And even after the late scores, it was Mairtin Lynch's men who had the last chance to win it, but rather than pop the pass out left, Pearse Fitzsimons cut back into traffic and kicked wide off his right foot.
Both will feel they have plenty of improving to do.
Cargin: J McNabb; D McKeever, G McCorley, K O'Boyle; J Laverty, J Crozier, T Scullion; M McCann (0-2), K McShane; C Bradley (0-2), T McCann (0-3, 0-2f, 0-1 45'), J Gribbin; K Close (0-3), M Magill (0-2), E McGrogan (0-1)
Subs: D Johnston for McShane (50), M Clarke for McGrogan (55)
Blood replacement: D Johnston for McGrogan (22-24)
Black card replacement: J Kennedy for Scullion (56)
Yellow cards: G McCorley (14)
Lámh Dhearg: J Finucane; C Nolan, A McAufield, M McGarry; R Stranney, D Lynch, B Rice; P Fitzsimons, K Quinn; E McKeown, C Flaherty, R Murray (0-1f); P Cunningham (1-6, 0-5f), M Herron (1-0), T McCrudden
Subs: P Mervyn for McAufield (HT), B McComb for Rice (51)
Yellow cards: C Nolan (46)
Referee: D McKeown (St Gall's)