Cargin make it three-in-a-row against gallant Creggan Kickhams
Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship final: Erin’s Own Cargin 1-22 Creggan Kickhams 1-19
IN years to come 2020 will be remembered as the time when a global pandemic ravaged our way of living.
This dastardly year will also be remembered for the way in which the Antrim club championships acted as the most soothing balm and how Cargin climbed the toughest mountain of the lot with ceaseless spirit and guile to claim an historic three-in-a-row.
One thing the Erin’s Own club don’t do is win easy championships.
In 2018, it took a last-gasp Tomas McCann goal to see off St Gall’s in the semi-finals before grinding out a 0-5 to 0-4 final win over Creggan Kickhams.
Yesterday’s decider between the pair couldn’t have been any more different than the turgid spectacle of two years ago.
In 2019, Cargin needed a replay to get past Lamh Dhearg to retain the title.
Yesterday was physically and mentally the most demanding of the three but the most rewarding.
At half-time in extra-time and trailing 0-19 to 0-18, Cargin manager Damian Cassidy could be heard in the middle of the team huddle repeating the line: “This is the biggest challenge of your careers.”
He wasn’t wrong either.
Creggan Kickhams were absolutely magnificent from start to finish yesterday. They played with pace and power, tackled ferociously and aimed at Cargin’s posts with clear minds.
They left everything on the green suede surface of Portglenone.
After yesterday’s truly epic victory over their neighbours, Cargin’s three-in-a-row winning manager Damian Cassidy was in reflective mood.
“This is Cargin’s first three-in-a-row, it’s historic,” said the Bellaghy native.
“To be part of that is an absolute honour for myself and Ronan [Devlin]. We came in three years ago and the chance of winning three in a row at that stage had gone from them and they looked like a demoralised squad.
“At our first meeting 27 players turned up and that was in complete contrast to Clonoe and Bellaghy where you could have had three teams in the room on the back of those first meetings.
“So you knew Cargin were really, really hurting. The first four matches we were really, really poor. We got an absolute tanking by St Gall’s and at that time you were asking serious questions of yourself… There were young lads there and we made the call we were going to concentrate on bringing them through. You can’t beat enthusiasm and hunger and ability.”
There is no doubting the likes of Pat Shivers, Jamie and Ronan Gribbin gave the Cargin seniors an extra spring in their step in recent times – but it was the hard-bitten older generation that saw them record an unforgettable win in sunny Portglenone yesterday.
Substitute and former county ace Ciaran Close landed the killer blow to Creggan’s hopes of winning their first senior title since 1954 with an expertly taken goal in the 73rd minute.
After a slow start, Michael McCann rose to the occasion and took this final by the scruff of the neck, wrestling momentum away from Creggan by catching balls he’d no business catching and never wasting a ball.
Tomas McCann hit the first four points of yesterday’s showdown and popped up again in the closing stages of normal time and extra-time to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
After Close’s major, Kevin O’Boyle – another player reaching veteran status - raced clear to hit two points in the dying embers to put the seal on this victory and James Laverty and Justin Crozier made countless lung-bursting runs from their defensive positions, continually asking questions of their opponents.
Shivers and Ciaran Bradley played starring roles too, sharing eight points between them.
Unfazed by falling behind 0-4 to no score after seven minutes, Creggan soon kicked into gear. They won countless turnovers on their own 45 and broke with purpose every time.
Dual ace Conor McCann hit two marvellous first-half scores from midfield, Kevin Rice broke free too and bagged a lovely point. Apart from Tiernan McAteer twisting and turning to point close to goal, Cargin’s full-back line stood firm.
The problem was further out the field.
Creggan forged into an 0-8 to 0-5 lead with Ruairi McCann prominent but they were hauled back as the sides ended a fantastic first half all-square [0-9 to 0-9].
It was virtually point for point throughout the second half while both management teams were up in arms at some refereeing decisions.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Creggan boss Gerard McNulty afterwards.
“Some of the decisions out there left a lot to be desired. I never ever talk about a referee after a game, but we could not get a free and they went up the pitch and got easy frees.”
McNulty was at odds with referee Brendan Toland’s decision to over-rule his umpire and award a point to Cargin’s Ciaran Bradley that tied the game up at 0-12 apiece on 40 minutes.
And yet, the Cargin line was equally miffed by some decisions that went against their team.
Undoubtedly Toland had some difficult moments in the game but given that he was being barracked from both sides his overall performance might have been somewhere in between the two.
But it was the muscle memory of champions that decided this affair.
In the second period of extra-time Jamie Gribbin found Ciaran Close on the blind side of the Creggan defence and the 38-year-old attacker found the bottom corner of the net with his left foot.
The Cargin supporters erupted, knowing that the umpire’s waving of the green flag had brought them closer to the Promised Land.
Odhran McLarnon replied with a low drive in stoppage-time that brought Creggan within two points but O’Boyle broke clear to put more daylight between the sides at the end.
McNulty added: “There were one or two times we looked like pulling away and you were thinking: ‘the next point, the next point’, and there were a few times in the first half we’d chances to get a few points.
“We were here because we deserved to be here. We’re not here by fluke. I’m just immensely proud of this team.”
Away from the delirious hub of celebrations, the winning manager wore the face of a contented man.
“After a game on Sunday it’s always around Wednesday by the time you get your head lifted. It works both ways: you go to the depths of despair after a defeat and to the heights of elation when you win.
“Somewhere in the middle of it all you can be content - just to walk along the River Bann, myself and Bridget, that’s when the peace comes from days like these.”
Erin’s Own Cargin: J McNabb; K O’Boyle (0-2), J Crozier, B Laverty (0-1); D Johnston, J Laverty, E McGroggan; K McShane, M McCann (0-1); C Bradley (0-3), P Shivers (0-5, 0-2 frees), J Carron; J McGibbin (0-1), T McCann (0-7, 0-5 frees, 0-1 mark), P McCann (0-1) Subs: G McCann for E McGroggan (35), M Kane for D Johnston (42), K Close (1-1) for J Carron (50), M Kelly for G McCann (55), S O’Neill for B Laverty (70), M Magill for J Gribbin (75), M Clarke for K Close (78)
Yellow cards: P Shivers (27), J McNabb (41), J Carron (44)
Creggan Kickhams: O Kerr; A Maguire, R Johnston, U McAteer; S Maguire, M Johnston, J McCann (0-3, 0-1); K Rice (0-1), Conor McCann (0-2); R McCann (0-8, 0-4 frees), K Small, F Burke; T McAteer (0-1), C Small (0-1), Conor McCann* Subs: M Rogers (0-1) for F Burke (h/t), l Quinn for T McAteer (46), P Cory (0-1) for S Maguire (60), T McCann for A Maguire (63), D McGuckin (0-1) for K Small (61), A McKeown for K Rice (70), O McLarnon (1-0) for U McAteer (76)
Yellow cards: K Rice (32), C Small (46), C McCann* (62), R Johnston (72)
Black card: U McAteer (78-88, substituted)
Referee: B Toland