GAA Football

Huge challenge for St Gall's against ultra-composed Cargin

Paddy Murray is trying to build St Gall's back into contenders again Picture: Mal McCann.

Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship: St Gall's v Erin's Own Cargin (St Enda's, today, 3.30pm) 

WHEN Paddy Murray left Ardoyne Kickhams a couple of seasons ago they were on the cusp of winning a junior championship. The only club he’d leave the north Belfast men for was his native St Gall’s.

When he decided to return to the Milltown club it was no glory trail.

St Gall’s weren’t on the cusp of anything other than a serious rebuild. The hurt of their championship defeat in 2019 to rivals Cargin at Corrigan Park ran deep and signalled to Murray just what he was about to take on in 2020.

Once the kingpins of Antrim, Lamh Dhearg, Aghagallon, Kickham’s Creggan and Portglenone all stole a march on St Gall’s.

Cargin were further ahead again.

“We wanted to bring younger players into the squad, it was a time of natural transition where a lot of players’ careers were coming to an end,” says Murray.

“Of course, things haven’t been helped with two years of COVID, two years of compressed season and it’s been a bit of a nightmare with the hurling fixtures. So it hasn’t been straightforward but you can start to see things taking shape.”

Murray cites the encouraging work being done at U20 and reserve team level but it’s a big ask of the current senior panel to knock three-in-a-row champions Cargin off their perch at St Enda’s, Glengormley this afternoon.

Despite a good blend of youth and experience in their ranks, St Gall’s are not reckoned to be in the championship shake-up. Which probably makes them an even trickier opponent for Cargin.

Today, they have a free shot at the champions.

“I totally understand why people aren’t talking about St Gall’s but whether they do or they don’t we’ll do what we’re doing. We're looking forward to the game and we'll embrace the challenge,” Murray said, who retains an experienced nucleus of previous St Gall’s teams including Sean Kelly, Terry O’Neill, Aodhan Gallagher, Kevin Niblock and goalkeeper Chris Kerr.

Barra McCaffrey and Niall Burns – son of former club great Sean Burns – have acclimatised well to the senior ranks.

Hamstrung by being placed in a three-team group, Murray would have preferred the same number of round robin games as today’s opponents, who suffered their first championship loss (to St John’s) under Damian Cassidy in three years, albeit Cargin had already qualified for the knock-out series.

The huge task facing St Gall’s – or indeed any of the pretenders to the crown – is trying to knock this ultra-composed Cargin team out of their stride.

Ruairi McCann of Kickham’s Creggan, who finished a runner-up to Cargin in 2018 and 2020, summed up the champions’ greatest strength.

In an interview with The Irish News, McCann observed: “When people talk about game-management they’re often referring to protecting a lead or managing the last 10 minutes of a game.

“I think Cargin’s greatest attribute is the ability to micro-manage every situation for 60 or 70 minutes in the same way St Gall’s used to do.”

Murray was hugely impressed with Creggan in their two encounters in the group stages but reckons Cargin are still the team to beat in Antrim.

“People think this Cargin team have been around but they’ve also won two minor championships, they’re bringing new players in every year and it’s keeping people on their toes. They’re certainly not waning.”

While this is a free shot for the Belfast men against their old rivals, Cargin are just too assured in everything they do and have the quality to prevail.

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