Creggan might have enough experience and muscle to see off Clann Eireann
Ulster Club Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Kickham’s Creggan (Antrim) v Clann Eireann (Armagh) (tomorrow, Corrigan Park, 1.30pm)
FOR Kickham’s Creggan and Clann Eireann, playing in Corrigan Park tomorrow afternoon will probably feel just plain weird.
For the first time in 67 years and 58 years, the two clubs claimed their respective county championships. They’ve climbed their mountains and reached the summit.
When you’re at the top both sets of players could be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing more to climb, that when the reach out they’re clutching at thin air and are probably still in the head space of soaking up the view.
How much does the Ulster Club really float their boat?
It takes a while to nurture a passion for the provincial stage, with the silverware being the preserve of those that have dominated their county championships.
Think Kilcoo, Slaughtneil and Crossmaglen Rangers. For those clubs, the county championships were only part of the climb.
Over the years there have been so many impressive performances from clubs that ended famines in their counties and looked fit to give Ulster a rattle.
But, by the time the provincial competition came around, the air had well and truly seeped out of their balloon.
There is no getting away from it: Clann Eireann’s shock final win over Crossmaglen and Creggan’s successful championship assault in Antrim will have softened them up a little.
At Corrigan Park tomorrow afternoon, we’ll get a clear-eyed view of the ambition that exists within both camps.
How has the inter-county contingent in both teams led the group over the last few weeks?
Which group of players stopped first from raising a celebratory glass?
Traditionally, the Antrim champions don’t fare well in Ulster.
It's true more was expected of Cargin – but they fell on the seat of their pants against Killyclogher, Gaoth Dobhair Derrygonnelly and Crossmaglen in recent times.
Lamh Dhearg, 2017 county champions, were beaten out the gate by Cavan Gaels in a provincial opener.
You’d have to go back over a decade, when St Gall’s were in their pomp, to find the last time the Antrim champions left an imprint in Ulster.
Armagh’s representatives have fared a little better but in more recent times Ulster Club victories have dried up.
Crossmaglen fell at the first hurdle in 2019, likewise Armagh Harps in 2017, Maghery beat Cavan champions Ramor United in 2016 before being schooled by Kilcoo in the semi-finals.
Although both the Armagh and Antrim champions are making their maiden appearances in Ulster, Creggan might be slightly further down the road than Clann Eireann.
Tommy Coleman’s side came from nowhere to lift the Gerry Fagan Cup, showing unbelievable spirit to come from six points down to beat Crossmaglen.
Cross manager Stephen Kernan must be still cursing that second-half water break.
The Kickham’s have been knocking on the door in Antrim, losing the 2018 and 2020 county finals before nailing this year’s championship having out-fought and out-thought defending champions Cargin in a brilliant semi-final and then jabbing their way past first-time finalists St Mary’s, Aghagallon in a one-sided decider.
And they’ve managed this feat without two key attackers Liam Quinn and Conor Small, both on the long-term injury list.
While Creggan are not a prolific scoring unit, they are a tough nut to crack. They are big, mobile and very composed in all areas of the field.
Gerard McNulty’s side could snare the Clann Eireann kick-out if they commit to a full-court press because the Lurgan men don’t have a lot of recognised catchers in their middle eight, and Creggan do.
And running the ball, which Clann Eireann like to do, won’t be easy against an opposition that tackle regularly and hit hard, if their second-half performance against Cargin is anything to go by.
Conor Bell will probably be tasked with stopping Antrim’s recently crowned player of the year Kevin Small at midfield, while Clann Eireann sweeper Ryan Henderson and centre-back Barry McCambridge will need to be mindful of Jamie McCann’s raids from deep.
Tiernan Kelly and Conor Turbitt – both men who have made bright starts to their county careers – will pose the greatest threat to Creggan’s hopes of landing a rare victory for Antrim in Ulster.
The Johnston brothers Marty and Ricky Johnston are Creggan’s two doormen at the back. Marty will pick up Kelly on the '40' and Ricky will track Turbitt on the edge of the square. Whoever wins these two duels will go a long way to deciding this tie.
That said, Clann Eireann will need to break down Creggan's human wall around midfield to get the ball to their two go-to men.
Creggan mightn't have big scores in them - but they just might have enough experience and muscle to see off their rivals from the Orchard.