Experience in past finals could swing Antrim decider in Creggan's favour

How big a contribution Adam Loughran can make for Aghagallon against Creggan could be crucial in tomorrow’s Antrim SFC final Picture: Mal McCann

Northern Switchgear Antrim SFC fnal: Creggan Kickham's v St Mary's, Aghagallon (tomorrow, Corrigan Park, 2.30pm, live on Páirc TV)

Not many would have predicted the finalists, but Creggan or Aghagallon will leave Corrigan Park in possession of the Padraig McNamee Cup tomorrow evening.

The landscape has shifted dramatically in Antrim senior club football in 2021 with St Mary’s reaching the final for the first time in their history while Kickham’s are bidding for their first win since 1954. Creggan are back in the final by virtue of their stunning comeback win over rivals Cargin in a gripping semi-final clash at St Enda’s last month.

An early goal from Tomás McCann was followed by another from Pat Shivers after the first water break as Cargin led 2-5 to 0-7 at half-time. Erin’s Own, who thumped St Gall’s by 18 points in the quarter-final, looked set for another final appearance. Yet, their four in-a-row bid was spectacularly derailed by Gerald McNulty’s men, who smothered their opponents into submission.

Laced with gifted players throughout their team, Cargin simply couldn’t engineer the same scoring opportunities after the break as Creggan’s high press limited their space and time on the ball. When they needed them most, Creggan’s big-game players stepped up to the mark.

McNulty labelled Marty Johnston a “Rolls-Royce” after the game and he was ably assisted by the likes of Conor McCann, Ruairi McCann (right) and Jamie McCann, who was also excellent in their quarter-final victory over St John’s. Prior to Cargin’s elimination at the hands of their neighbours, Aghagallon were busy making their own history by reaching their first SFC final. At Dunsilly, they needed two periods of extra-time to see off the challenge of Portglenone by the narrowest of margins, 1-19 to 1-18.

However, it subsequently emerged that the game should have gone to penalties when the sides were tied after 80 minutes, but Casement’s opted against lodging an appeal to the Ulster Council having initially sought clarification from the Antrim county board. That left Aghagallon free to prepare for the biggest fixture in the club’s history and manager Kevin Murray hopes the close nature of their games to date will stand to his players. “Creggan are a phenomenal team,” stated Murray.

“They been there in finals over the last number of years. They are one of the top teams in Antrim and they got over the massive mountain of Cargin and that’s a great achievement for them.

“For us, getting over the line against Portglenone was the main thing and going through that emotion all stand to our players.

“Every campaign, we’ve been trying to learn and the players have aspirations of being among the top teams every year.

“They want to get better and they want to improve. We are now one of two teams left in the championship so that’s evidence of some of that belief and where they are taking it to on the pitch.”

Aghagallon are backboned by players who won the MacRory and Hogan Cup with St Ronan’s, Lurgan in 2018. Luke Mulholland, Aidan Mulholland, Jamie Lamont, Jack Lenehan, Adam Loughran and Marc McAfee all featured in the All-Ireland final against Rice College, Westport while Eunan Walsh, Pat Branagan and Gareth Magee have been in excellent form this season for St Mary’s.

Loughran, though, remains a doubtful starter for Aghagallon in tomorrow’s decider as he has been restricted to substitute appearances in the wins over St Brigid’s and Portglenone as he recovers from a hamstring strain.

How much game-time Murray can get out of Loughran will have a huge bearing on the decider as the Antrim attacker has the vision and the passing ability to ask questions of a supremely well-organised Creggan defence. Kickham’s are already without Conor Small and Liam Quinn with the forward duo both suffering cruciate injuries this season.

Dethroning the champions doesn’t guarantee silverware as Mayo found out to their cost in the All-Ireland SFC final against Tyrone.

Yet, Creggan’s recent experience in finals may give them the edge and they should win with a couple of points to spare.

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