GAA Football

Too many gaps in Antrim SFC: Cargin boss Damian Cassidy

Cargin manager Damian Cassidy feels the Antrim SFC could be condensed Picture: Seamus Loughran

CARGIN boss Damian Cassidy has described the gaps between the end of the round robin series and this weekend’s Antrim SFC quarter-finals as “not acceptable”.

Cargin, who face old city rivals St Gall’s in an intriguing last eight tie at St Enda’s tomorrow afternoon, have played one competitive game in five weeks and even then the defending champions had already booked their place in the knock-out series before losing to St John’s.

Technically, it was the first championship defeat Cargin have suffered under Cassidy having led the Erin’s Own club to an historic three-in-a-row since assuming the reins in 2018.

“That wasn’t championship,” Cassidy said, half-jokingly.

“The championship starts with knock-out football. It’s starts this weekend, without a doubt. The round robin is not championship football as I know it.”

Cargin’s home defeat to the Johnnies – who needed a victory to progress – was on October 3, while St Gall’s were hamstrung by being placed in a three-team group and therefore had less games.

Kickham’s Creggan, arguably Cargin’s closest challengers, were also in the three-team group with St Gall’s and haven’t played a competitive game since September 1 after their final game was called off due to a COVID outbreak in Gort na Mona.

Cassidy feels the gap has been too long for every team that has made it through to this weekend.

“The Antrim championship was very good last year the way it worked out for us because of COVID,” Cassidy said.

“It meant the round robin games ran quite quickly into the quarter-finals and semi-finals. I thought it was really good, and the county board and people on the CCC deserve credit for the way it was run off.

“This year, regardless of how it goes for Cargin, I think they’re going to have to review how they set it up because the length of time it has taken is not conducive to helping any of the teams. We’ve had one game in five weeks. It’s a snooze-fest.

“Another critical element of it and compounds the problem is that every other county is running their championship at the same time so getting a challenge match has been incredibly difficult.

“That would have reduced the impact to an extent. We’re into high double figures for the amount of teams we tried to get friendlies with. They need to condense the space between the games because it’s just not acceptable.”

He added: “To be fair to everybody involved, I know that it’s a transition period going from what it was to what it is now. So we accept that but I’m just giving feedback. I’d be disappointed if the timeframe would be the same for next season.”

While there wasn’t a lot riding on the outcome of the St John’s tie earlier this month for Cargin, the defeat might be the mid-championship wake-up call to get them ready for their banana-skin game against underdogs St Gall’s.

“I suppose it’s that unknown going into the first game,” said Cassidy.

“I trust the players. I expect them to go out and perform. They have never let themselves down in the last three or four years, so there isn’t form of them doing that. It’s just the lack of match practice but it’s the same for everybody.”

Cargin didn’t concede a single point for one-and-a-half games of the round robin series, keeping senior rookies Moneyglass scoreless in their opener and denying O’Donovan Rossa a score for nearly a full half in their next outing.

St Gall’s, meanwhile, are still in a deep transitional phase – but Cassidy insists they won’t be looking past the Falls Road men.

“Ultimately the real test will come on Saturday because I know the lads really well at this stage. I know how they prepare and I keep saying it: the best feedback you’re going to get is from the opposition.

“You can do the analysis and look at all the stats after the games but the opposition will tell us exactly where we’re at. The opposition will tell us how motivated we are.”

Cargin have been buoyed by the influx of championship minor-winning players over the past two season who have forced their way into the senior reckoning.

Pat Shivers, Sean O’Neill, Paudie McLaughlin, Eunan Quinn and Benen Kelly are among those who have created genuine depth to the three-in-a-row champions.

“Athletically, they’re all very mobile,” Cassidy said. “They’re just very good footballers.”

“One of the strengths that seems to have developed over the course of the season is the young players from those two minor championship winning teams have been pushing through and are starting to create genuine competition.

“That in itself cannot be ignored. It gives you more flexibility with the panel of players that you have, whereas in our first season we didn’t have a massive panel by any stretch of the imagination.

“If you saw players injured it could make things really difficult for you. While some of those lads might be inexperienced, they can play.

“Hopefully you find yourself in a position that if a player doesn’t reach a level you’d expect him to, there are other players ready to come in and take that opportunity.”

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