Creggan will find Cargin juggernaut hard to stop
Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship semi-final: Erin’s Own, Cargin v Kickham’s Creggan (tomorrow, St Enda’s, Glengormley, 2.45pm)
AS far as championship football goes, it couldn’t get any better than what Erin’s Own Cargin and Kickham’s Creggan served up in last season’s epic decider in sunny Portglenone.
Living cheek by jowl, the pair proved beyond a shadow of doubt that they were the two best teams in the county.
Last September’s encounter could have gone either way.
Although Creggan came out on the losing end of an extra-time thriller, it banished any notion of an inferiority complex among Gerard McNulty’s players.
Man for man, they were as good as the three-in-a-row champions – and they will carry that mindset up the Hightown Road tomorrow afternoon for their eagerly awaited semi-final meeting.
So what’s changed from last September?
On the evidence of this season’s championship, the suspicion is that Cargin may well be a better version of 2020, while Creggan might not have made as many gains.
Last weekend at St Enda's, Cargin blew city rivals St Gall’s out of the water in a painfully one-sided quarter-final clash.
Twenty-four hours later at the same venue, Creggan made desperately hard work of St John’s.
Of course, there are caveats to each club’s journey to the semi-finals.
Creggan had the misfortune of being placed in one of the three-team preliminary groups which meant less games and was compounded by the cancellation of their final group game due to a COVID outbreak in Gort na Mona’s ranks.
As a consequence, none of the Creggan players had a big ball in their hands for two months before last Sunday’s attritional contest with the Johnnies.
Moreover, it’s a back-handed compliment to St John’s that nobody - absolutely nobody - looks good against them.
Kevin Small and Jamie McCann looked like grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck in the opening half while Eunan McAteer pushed forward to good effect – but Creggan’s problem was they couldn’t sustain it.
When you survey the pockmarks of Creggan’s display last Sunday – their failure to convert more chances and cheap turnovers - they did see out the last quarter in impressive manner.
Ricky Johnston is an awesome full-back and he had attacker Ruairi McCann beside him minding the square astutely in the closing stages.
Together, they shut out the light on St John’s and rather than the game reaching a nervy climax, it petered out as Creggan played keep-ball until the final whistle.
There is definitely more in this Creggan team – and they’ll have to prove it tomorrow to stand a chance of ending their neighbours’ dominance over them.
Cargin, by contrast, looked like champions in waiting against St Gall’s. But, like Creggan's display, there were caveats.
St Gall’s were desperately poor and looked demoralised after conceding two early goals.
Cargin were allowed to play exhibition football but even though they weren’t tested in any meaningful way, you could still detect their championship calibre.
The McCann brothers – Mick and Tomas – look evergreen.
The perpetual urgency of James Laverty and Kevin O’Boyle along the half-back line was hugely impressive while Ciaran Bradley and Jamie Gribbin have given the Cargin attack an added dimension.
Pat Shivers chips with scores every day while Michael Magill has adapted well to the goalkeeping position in the absence of the injured John McNabb.
Cargin boss Damian Cassidy has also acknowledged his bench is stronger than it has ever been in his three years at the helm and that he can afford to be “more aggressive” with changes.
Nipped by St John’s in the group stages, it would appear Cargin have pressed on the accelerator in 2021 and are moving smoothly.
They have also proven to be brilliant game-managers and passed all the stress tests put up to them.
Expect Creggan to be better than last week - but it may still not be enough to stop this Cargin juggernaut.