GAA Football

McCann leads cool Cargin heads across the line

Creggan's Conor McCann fires a goal chance over Cargin goalkeeper John McNabb's crossbar during extra-time in Dunsilly. Picture by Philip Walsh
From Cahair O'Kane at Dunsilly

Antrim SFC semi-final: Cargin 0-13 Creggan 0-12 (AET)

HIS ankle blackened, the ligaments in it hanging together from two weeks ago, no business being on a football field, Tomás McCann ignores the stabbing pain caused by shifting his bodyweight.

Go on his right, he’s kicking into a block. Switch to the left, he puts Cargin in a county final.

You could call that a no-brainer but it isn’t. Most players either kick it into the block, turn backwards or haven’t the weaker foot to step on to.

Tomás McCann has never been most players, least of all in a Cargin jersey. There were shades of his last-gasp goal from a 13-metre free against St Gall’s a few years back.

In some ways it felt like they’d pilfered the game from Creggan, but when you look at the big spells and the big moments, Cargin dealt with them better.

Paul McCann had just been black carded when his namesake Ruairi kicked the holders 0-8 to 0-6 ahead. That ought to have been that. But Gerard McCann, via the top of the bar, skimmed the lead in half before they manufactured an equaliser for Pat Shivers from a well-taken mark. That it was an inadequately soft way to earn a score didn’t bother anyone in the change black strip of the Erin’s Own men.

They’d earned extra-time in the hardest of ways and then had to deal with being informed on their way off that Pat Shivers would be shown a red card when they returned. He’d been cited by an umpire but video evidence appears to suggest the decision was ludicrously harsh.

It wasn’t the evening’s only questionable decision. The tackle was refereed in such a way that it wasn’t refereed at all. Everything and anything went, right up to an including moves straight out of the WWE.

That made for compelling viewing for neutrals among a 2,000-strong crowd, but frustration for the two teams who had no idea what was a free and what wasn’t.

Creggan complained more bitterly, centered largely on the black card for Ruairi McCann. It was a critical call, again from an umpire, coming early in the second half of extra-time with his side a point up. It’s understood it may have been a case of mistaken identity.

“We were on top until the umpire decides to call the referee in. Ruairi McCann’s standing telling me ‘I did not do anything, I don’t know what I was meant to have done’,” said bitterly disappointed joint-Kickhams boss Gerard McNulty.

“For him to call one of our best players, that’s when the game changed.”

It changed so often it was chameleonesque. Creggan had justifiable issues but so would Cargin have had if they’d lost.

The attacking mark became a bone of contention, with Gerard McCann penalised for overcarrying when he thought he’d taken a defensive mark but hadn’t put his hand up. Ruairi McCann pointed the free.

Moments later Liam Quinn scored a mark from a pass that appeared to have been kicked from inside the 45. Those two scores helped Creggan pull back to within one having been 0-6 to 0-2 down just after the break.

They were lucky in one sense it was only four in it, with Cargin having completely dominated the opening 20 minutes. But even by the interval you could feel the pendulum’s weight falling towards the other side. Creggan started to pick up ball and open gaps.

Having watched John McNabb give an exhibition of distribution in the first half, they squeezed the life out of his restarts after half-time and began to dominate. Kevin Small went to midfield and the introduction of Sean Duffin brought fresh life to the 2021 winners.

Cargin went 25 minutes without scoring and their four-point lead had become a two-point deficit they had to chase a man light. A 55-metre Oisin Kerr free dropped short and Gerard McCann got away with missing it as it cannoned back off the crossbar to safety.

Creggan had the experience of last year’s county title but Cargin had a bigger bank to call on. Even before the winner, Tomás McCann had a massive impact after his introduction. Kevin McShane put in a serious shift at midfield.

On the other side, between Eunan McAteer and Ricky Johnston, Creggan dealt well with Shivers and Mick McCann. The game started off tight and worked itself into a ball of furious tension that rolled its way into an extra 20 minutes.

Cargin were at least informed of Shivers’ red card before they put him on a teamsheet for extra-time, meaning they were able to resume with 15 men.

Creggan probably left the game behind when Conor McCann (not the cruciate-riddled hurler, the other one) cut right through but blazed way over John McNabb’s crossbar from close range. That made it 0-10 apiece when a goal would probably have won the game.

Still, when the impressive Odhran McLarnon ignored the hit coming at him to kick Creggan back in front after 78 gruelling minutes, their crown looked like it would only be ripped off in a penalty shootout at worst.

But with ten seconds of injury-time gone, McNabb landed a brilliant equaliser. A minute later, veteran Kevin O’Boyle took off, just as he did to kick the score that sealed the 2020 final at exactly the same stage.

Young McLarnon puffed and cycled the legs and busted himself to get back but O’Boyle was gone. Gap opened, panic ensued, heads were lost.

He pops it to Ronan Devlin. The club had lost his uncle Paddy on Friday, a massive Cargin clubman, brother of selector JC. Just on the field, Ronan fittingly lends the final assist.

McCann gets the ball, steps inside two defenders desperate to keep him off his right and rolls the winner over with the left.

“Those boys have been around and gave a lot of service, but I don’t see them getting any older,” said Cargin boss Ronan Devlin.

“They’re getting older chronologically but not on the pitch. They’re smart players, good footballers.”

When it really came down to it, Cargin kept their heads to knock the crown from Creggan’s.

Cargin: J McNabb (0-3, 0-2 45s, 0-1 free); K O’Boyle, J Crozier, C Donnelly; J Carron, K McShane, S O’Neill; J Laverty, G McCann (0-1); C Bradley (0-1), P McCann, K Close, J Gribben; P Shivers (0-3, 0-1 free), M McCann (0-2 free)
Subs: B Kelly for Gribben (40), T McCann (0-3, 0-2 frees) for Close (44), B Laverty for Donnelly (44), D Johnston for McShane (57), E Quinn for Carron (62), J Carron (start of ET), K McShane for G McCann (68), P McLaughlin for Crozier (72), R Devlin for Bradley (77)

Creggan: O Kerr; R Johnston, E McAteer; T McAteer; E Carey-Small, M Johnston, A Maguire, J McCann; K Small (0-1), K McCann; O McLarnon (0-1), R McCann (0-5, 0-4 frees), K Rice; L Quinn (0-2, 0-1 mark), D McAteer
Subs: K Burke (0-1) for Maguire (18), S Duffin for K McCann (HT), C Small for D McAteer (42), C McCann (0-1) for E McAteer (52), M Rodgers (0-1) for Quinn (57), Sam Maguire for T McAteer (70), Joe McAteer for C Small (76)

Referee: C McDonald (St Gall’s)

GAA Football