Cargin's setup will affect the margin, not the result
Ulster Club SFC semi-final: Glen (Derry) v Cargin (Antrim) (tomorrow, 1.30pm, Healy Park, live on TG4)
ONCE upon a time, the 13 miles from Toome to the gates of St Patrick’s Maghera was a road well-travelled for football-hungry students.
Of the elder contingent on the Cargin team tomorrow, brothers Michael and Tomás McCann and James Laverty all played MacRory Cup football in Maghera.
In more recent years, Pat Shivers, Sean O’Neill and Paudie McLaughlin have represented St Pat’s, the latter having had his game-time curtailed largely by injury and its knock-on effects.
In recent years, the epicentre of schools’ football in Derry has rebalanced towards Magherafelt, where Cargin lads would be found in greater number.
St Mary’s Magherafelt have won two and lost one of the last four finals played, with Maghera sharing the other title in the Covid year of 2020.
Cargin and Glen players have long been schoolmates but just the way the current age profiles fall, not too many of them have actually overlapped.
The point is that a lot of these players came up through the same system. Footballs didn’t weigh any heavier and grass wasn’t any different just because you crossed the Bann.
Yet the inferiority complex that follows Antrim football around has been so hard to shake.
Cargin have struggled in recent provincial adventures to harness the same belief that St Gall’s had at their pomp, where they felt they could win Ulsters and All-Irelands every time they got there.
The manner of Cargin’s win over Naomh Conaill follows the line of a season that has rained blows down on them for the last three games. Yet here they are in the last four in Ulster.
They looked gone at eight points down to Aghagallon in the Antrim final.
They looked gone at stages in normal time and extra-time against both Creggan and Naomh Conaill.
There are significant differences between those games and this one, however.
Cargin have proven themselves the best footballers in Antrim in recent years. They play open football domestically and that’s served them well in recent years.
They were tactically well set-up against Naomh Conaill but when they had to come out and chase it, the Donegal champions played a slower, more composed game that didn’t punish them in the spaces left behind.
Glen will do nothing of the sort, and that is the quandary for Ronan Devlin.
If Cargin try to go man-to-man with the Derry champions, it could go very wrong very quickly.
Individually, Cargin are as good defensively as Errigal Ciaran, if not better.
Errigal led at half-time. They were very lucky in the first half that playing without a full-time sweeper didn’t cost them dearly. Glen looked like scoring a goal every time they ran at them. Imprecision, misfortune and poor finishing stopped them from steamrolling the Tyrone champions.
It would feel like a big mistake for the Toome men to try and fight this one-on-one.
Jack Doherty in particular is in such a scintillating way of going at centre-forward, picking up such good positions and coming on to the ball with searing pace into areas where he and the opposition can both get hurt. He could cut any team in bits at the minute.
His brother Ethan has shown up in fits and starts on this run without rediscovering the form he’d shown for Derry that earned him a Young Footballer of the Year nomination.
Against Errigal, Danny Tallon played one of his best games in recent years that day. His confidence is up and he’ll need marked too.
They all have pace, every one of them, and it means any defensive unit is trying to put square pegs in round holes against them. One wrong match-up could be catastrophic.
For Cargin, Pat Shivers has given himself a shake since earning a reprieve from his ridiculously harsh semi-final sending off against Creggan, kicking 0-7 from play across the last two games.
He’ll find himself up against Ryan Dougan, whose own fine form has been a huge factor in Glen’s season.
If Ronan Devlin’s men are intent on a counter-punching approach – as you think they will be – then they’ll have to play on the fact Glen will give them spaces.
Errigal let the ball in early when they turned it over, especially in the first half, and got a bit of joy out of it.
Cargin have to kick the ball early too. Shivers, Mick and Tomás McCann would fancy themselves against any man.
The slower the ball comes out of defence, the more their chances will diminish.
Cargin’s running game won’t hurt Glen enough. If they are being routinely slowed up on the way out, then there’s a chance their attacks will end by being routinely turned over.
You only have to look at the Derry final and how ineffective Slaughtneil’s attempts were that afternoon.
They got eaten up in attack, just as Cargin could if they’re not prepared to take risks and try to force those individual battles upon the Glen defence.
They may not be far apart geographically and they may once have shared the same back pitches at St Pat’s, but Glen look like a side that are moving on to a different plain.
Cargin’s setup will affect the margin, but it won’t affect the result.