GAA Football

Clann Eireann overwhelm Creggan with some moments of magic

Clann Eireann’s Conor McConville and Conor Bell keep Creggan's Conor McCann at bay during yesterday's Ulster Club showdown Picture Mark Marlow
From Brendan Crossan at Corrigan Park

Ulster Club Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Kickham’s Creggan (Antrim) 0-17 Clann Eireann (Armagh) 2-14

VICTORIOUS Clann Eireann manager Tommy Coleman wasn’t boasting with reporters afterwards – he was merely stating the blindingly obvious after watching his side overwhelm Antrim champions Kickham’s Creggan in a pulsating Ulster quarter-final that needed extra-time to find a winner.

“We could have gone for another 20 minutes if we needed to,” he said.

Even though Kickham’s Creggan were pushing for a last-gasp goal that ultimately never came, the Antrim champions were running on empty before the end of 80 minutes of absorbing Ulster club football.

Apart from the age-defying Ryan Henderson, Clann Eireann had youth, bags of fitness and hunger on their side and, despite trailing by six points at the break, they should really have won this clash in normal time such was their dominance after half-time.

When Coleman’s men throw caution to the wind they morph into an unstoppage force.

Crossmaglen found out to their cost in last month’s county final.

Yesterday, at a sun-splashed Corrigan Park, it was Creggan’s turn to realise just how dangerous a side Clann Eireann are when they push up on you.

With both sides making their provincial debuts, this clash was your classic game of two halves.

Without being particularly convincing in the first half, Creggan were allowed to dictate the terms of engagement and fashioned a handsome 0-8 to 0-2 half-time lead.

In the second half, Clann Eireann made a tactical switch that turned them into a fearless, fighting unit which totally bamboozled their opponents.

No longer were Creggan allowed the time and space to make lateral passes and move methodically up the field to carve out opportunities.

The terms of engagement had irreversibly changed.

Once Barry McCambridge pushed up on Creggan sweeper Odhran McLarnon, Gerard McNulty’s men struggled to cope with the stress.

Tiernan Kelly’s observation afterwards that they needed numbers to bring down Creggan’s defensive system was spot on.

Clann Eireann tore into the Antrim champions in the second half and extra-time and were worthy winners.

And yet, the first half was a disaster zone for the Lurgan men. Aodhan McConville opened Clann Eireann’s account after two minutes but they didn’t register another score until the stroke of half-time.

In between times, the Creggan defence was like a spider’s web, winning a ton of turnovers and breezing up the field at their own pace to bag seven unanswered points.

Tiarnan McAteer broke Clann Eireann’s defensive lines to nab an 18th minute point and a few minutes later corner-back Eunan McAteer made a brilliant interception to deny Daniel Magee a certain goal before Creggan broke forward again for Tiarnan McAteer to hit another fine score.

Imperious in the green and yellow all season, midfielder Kevin Small and wing-back Jamie McCann never let their standards drop yesterday – while too many others struggled to reproduce their county championship form.

Kevin Small grabbed his third of four points on the day just after the half-time interval but Clann Eireann virtually owned the game after that score.

Well marshalled throughout by Ricky Johnston on the edge of the square, Conor Turbitt's two points from play were hard-earned.

Tiernan Kelly moved from centre-forward to midfield which had a dramatic impact on the game, having more possessions than any other player on the pitch.

Introduced after the break, Ruairi McDonald got free down the right side of the Creggan defence and found the bottom corner of the net to level the tie [0-9 to 1-6] on 44 minutes.

Watching so many of his players wilt in the face of Clann Eireann’s second-half onslaught, Creggan boss McNulty made aggressive use of his bench and it stemmed the tide for a period.

Ruairi McCann and Jamie McCann put Creggan ahead again but Clann Eireann’s greater intensity and slick movement of the ball signalled that the winning of this contest was well within reach.

Creggan were akin to a crafty boxer: blowing hard, fighting off the ropes and still landing some smart shots, but Clann Eireann kept coming at them.

The resourceful Antrim champions still led by two in stoppage-time of normal time while at the other end Ruairi McDonald should have bagged his second major of the day but somehow fisted over the bar from close range that made it a one-point game.

With Creggan hanging on by a point, referee Paul Faloon moved the ball forward after an infringement from Creggan substitute Sam Maguire.

And from a ridiculous distance, Tiernan Kelly landed a monster point from the stand side to force the game into extra-time.

“At first I thought it was too far out but when I got over, it was just inside the distance, so I just had to have a pop and you live with the result.”

Substitute Jack Conlon, Adam and Tiernan Kelly, Barry McCambridge and the brilliant Daniel Magee were awesome in extra-time for Clann Eireann.

In the 68th minute, Conlon found Magee with a brilliant pass and the languid forward found the bottom corner of Creggan's net to put the Armagh champions 2-11 to 0-14 ahead.

Kevin Small, Dominic McAteer and Ruairi McCann landed crucial scores for Creggan in the final 10 minutes - but Magee and Conor McConville kept the scoreboard ticking over for Tommy Coleman's men to see them through to face Derrygonnelly in the semi-finals in 13 days’ time.

Creggan’s year might have ended in disappointment – but they will be comforted over the winter months by ending a 67-year wait for a county title.

Maybe Ulster will come their way again.

Kickham’s Creggan: O Kerr; EC Small, R Johnston, E McAteer; A Maguire (0-1 mark), M Johnston (0-1), J McCann (0-1 free); K Small (0-4), C McCann; T McAteer (0-2), P Coey (0-1), R McCann (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-1 ’45); S Duffin, M Rodgers, O McLarnon (0-1) Subs: K Rice for P Coey (45), Conor McCann (c) for S Duffin (45), F Burke (0-1) for C McCann (50), S Maguire for A Maguire (50), D McAteer (0-1) for M Rodgers (59), K McCann for EC Small (67), T McCann for J McCann (67), K Burke for M Johnston (76)

Yellow cards: T McAteer (33), S Duffin (38), K Rice (66)

Clann Eireann: E Mullholland; C O’Carroll, S Heffron, D Leathem; S McCarthy, B McCambridge, A Kelly; C Bell, C McConville (0-1), D Magee (1-3), T Kelly (0-2, 0-1 free), R Henderson; D McCarthy, C Turbitt (0-4, 0-2 frees), A McConville (0-1) Subs: R McDonald (1-2) for A McConville (h/t), J Conlan (0-1) for D McCarthy (40), O McCafferty for C Bell (57), O Downey for S McCarthy (75), J McLaughlin for D Magee (80)

Yellow cards: A Kelly (45), T Kelly (52)

Referee: P Faloon (Down)

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GAA Football