Ageless champions Cargin hit the ground running against Rossa

Pat Shivers hit 2-2 in Cargin's opening day win over Rossa
Pat Shivers hit 2-2 in Cargin's opening day win over Rossa

Northern Switchgear Antrim SFC Group 1, round one

O’Donovan Rossa, Belfast 0-11 Erin’s Own, Cargin 3-11

THE wheel keeps on turning up in Cargin as the county champions breezed to an opening day win over O’Donovan Rossa in west Belfast on Saturday afternoon.

It helps if you’re absolutely obsessed with the game, which Cargin are, and when you have a clutch of age-defying footballers who look leaner and fitter than they’ve ever been.

James Laverty, Kevin O’Boyle, Justin Crozier, Gerard McCann and Tomas McCann each played like Benjamin Button at a resplendent looking Rossa Park.

Midfielder Gerard McCann continued where he left off last season, fetching balls and spoiling the opposing midfield.

Not long back from injury, Tomas McCann was razor-sharp along the ‘40’ bringing urgency to the Cargin attack and plenty of stress to the Rossa defence.

Laverty kept everything simple at the back and clocked up the miles.

O’Boyle bounced across the turf from start to finish and kept county ace Dominic McEnhill scoreless from play while Crozier played like Crozier does: a seven or eight out of 10 every day.

County champions four times out of the last five years, the men from Toome turned up at Rossa Park and clicked into championship gear as soon as the ball was thrown in.

Pat Shivers hit two goals – one in each half – and assisted for Eunan Quinn to raise the first green flag of the afternoon on 19 minutes with a sublime crossfield pass.

Playing against a stiff breeze in the first half, Cargin had virtually the round robin points wrapped up by the interval, having established a commanding 2-6 to 0-4 lead.

One of the most impressive features of Ronan Devlin's Cargin side is that they have an uncanny ability of playing slow-slow football and can switch to breakneck speed in an instant.

Rossa had no answers when Cargin stepped on the gas.

After curling in a beautiful score on 30 minutes, Tomas McCann was heavily involved in Pat Shivers grabbing his first major of the day in first-half stoppage-time with a simple tap in after the Rossa defence was cut open.

The visitors were playing at a different level in the first half, but Rossa lifted the tempo of their play in the second period and ran the ball impressively at times and probably didn’t get the scores on the board their approach work deserved.

Chris McGuinness, Niall Crossan, Thomas Morgan and Richard Gowdy dug deep in an effort to reel the visitors in, but they couldn’t get their key shooter – McEnhill – on the ball enough times to really test the durability of Cargin’s lead.

Goalkeeper Michael Byrne landed two tricky placed balls in the 35th and 37th minutes, but Cargin were a constant threat on the counter-attack.

Pat Shivers peeled away in the 48th minute to drill past Byrne to put Cargin 3-8 to 0-6 in front.

In the closing 10 minutes, Rossa never gave up the fight.

McEnhill, who had a hugely impressive campaign with Antrim earlier in the year, nailed back-to-back frees for Hugh McGettigan’s side and dual player Thomas Morgan tagged on three from play to creep into double figures.

The defending champions are moving well and have Mick McCann on the comeback trail after undergoing minor surgery but the key concern after Saturday's win was the 48th minute withdrawal of goalkeeper John McNabb who picked up an ankle injury.

Elsewhere, Portglenone saw off a spirited second half challenge from Group Two opponents St Enda's (3-8 to 1-8). The sides were level with seven minutes to go before John McKeever's side pulled away thanks to Odhran McGarry's converted penalty.

Earlier Ruairi Hagan and Paddy Kelly hit the net for the Casements, who were without Dermot McAleese, Niall Delargy (both injured) and the suspended Niall McKeever.

Fionn Nagle did give the Hightown Road men hope with a well-taken second half goal.

Creggan Kickhams, still under the wily tutelage of Gerard McNulty, negotiated their opening Group Three game against St Gall's (1-12 to 0-10) with Joe McAteer's 51st minute goal helping the 2022 champions over the line.

In Group Four, last year's county finalists St Mary's Aghagallon suffered a two-point loss to an ever-improving St Brigid's (2-9 to 0-13)

O’Donovan Rossa: M Byrne (0-2 frees); P Moyes, C McGuinness, M Mallon; J Morris (0-1), G Walsh (0-1), R Gowdy; C McGettigan, E McMenamin; N Crossan, D McEnhill (0-3 frees), R Grant, D Grego, S Beatty, T Morgan (0-4) Subs: C Orchin for R Grant (h/t), A Devlin for P Moyes (49), D Rogan for J Morris (52), C Fleming for D Grego (52), J McGurk for M Mallon (55)

Yellow card: G Walsh (61)

Erin’s Own, Cargin: J McNabb (0-1); J Laverty, K McShane, K O’Boyle; J Crozier, P McCann, S O’Neill; G McCann, J Carron; D Johnston (0-1), T McCann (0-4, 0-2 frees), J Gribbin (0-1); P Shivers (2-2, 0-1 free), E Quinn (1-0), Conhuir Johnston (0-1) Subs: S Laverty for J McNabb (48 inj), R Gribbin for J Carron (49), Conan Johnston (0-1) for P McCann (51), C Bradley for D Johnston(52), T Shivers for P Shivers (55)

Yellow card: K McShane (61)

Referee: C McDermott (Tir nan Og)

Cargin's John McNabb suffered a second-half ankle injury
Cargin's John McNabb suffered a second-half ankle injury