Football

Cargin are a better side than last year, but so are Glen

James Laverty on the attack for Cargin against Glen last year. The Antrim champions took their Derry counterparts to the wire and felt disrespected by some of the commentary before and after the game.
James Laverty on the attack for Cargin against Glen last year. The Antrim champions took their Derry counterparts to the wire and felt disrespected by some of the commentary before and after the game. James Laverty on the attack for Cargin against Glen last year. The Antrim champions took their Derry counterparts to the wire and felt disrespected by some of the commentary before and after the game.

AIB Ulster Club SFC quarter-final: Glen v Cargin (Sunday, 3pm, Celtic Park)

ULSTER Club, with all its moving parts, is seldom the place to go looking redemption.

But with six of the nine senior football titles in the province held in 2023 by the same hands as 2022, the chance was always going to fall to someone.

So Cargin it is.

For a team that was able to break St Gall’s stranglehold just once in 14 years to have since won seven of the last nine Antrim titles has moved them into a conversation as one of the county’s greatest teams in history.

St Gall’s All-Ireland success separates their achievement but even in terms of the great St John’s team that won nine county titles between 1975 and 1988, they also reached three Ulster finals.

It eats at Cargin that it took until last year to make a breakthrough. Since their 2015 breakthrough, the Toome men hadn’t won a game in the competition until Kevin McShane hauled Naomh Conaill into a penalty shootout, fisting a last-gasp goal in normal time and then kicking a memorable equaliser at the end of extra-time.

That earned them a shot at Glen. Nobody really expected the Antrim champions to win but the nature of pre-match commentary to that effect stung them.

“There was a headline saying something like ‘the result is obvious, but maybe the margin might not be’. As in, we were beaten before we arrived… I just found that it hurt this time. Those fellas were annoyed that they were disrespected,” said Erin’s Own boss Ronan Devlin after the game, referring to The Irish News’ match preview.

They were then angered some more by a lack of post-match credit for a game in which they were within two points in stoppage time, having been just one down at key times in the second half.

That was last year.

The only natural conclusion to be drawn from this year’s championship is that Cargin are a better team now than they were then.

For an entire generation their orchestra played to the tune set by Mick McCann.

When they needed him full-forward, in he went. Had to be at midfield, out he comes.

Sitting deep, slowing the game up, taking the sting out of it, whatever it was, Mick McCann instinctively did it and the rest of them learnt to adjust.

They’ve weaned themselves off him in this run. With 70-odd minutes of game time in total, he’s been peripheral.

Yet the impact he had around midfield after coming on in the final was still notable.

In the absence of the suspended Eunan Quinn, it would be a major surprise if it’s not McCann that takes his place.

Cargin quelled Dunloy’s goal-threat, monopolised their kickout and never looked like losing, even with 14 men.

Pat Shivers didn’t start either, having taken a knock early in the win over St Brigid’s.

They’ll be shorn tomorrow of Quinn, serving the first of a two-game ban following his early red card in the county final. He’d gone off injured against St Brigid’s too.

To win a championship without starting Mick McCann and Pat Shivers, and with Quinn playing only a bit-part, can only be taken as an indication of growing strength.

Sean O’Neill has developed further into a terrific footballer. Paul is the McCann that gets nowhere near the credit he’s owed. The introduction of starlet Conhuir Johnston has brought greater goal-threat to their attack.

None of their older hands look any older. It feels kinda like what’s the difference between being 34 and being 35? They’re all certain stages in their career but they’re all in superb nick.

Yet Malachy O’Rourke’s side never upped the pace last year to see if Cargin could run with them. Glen sat in very deep and allowed the pace of the game to be slowed to a crawl.

For performances like that of John Carron against Ethan Doherty, Kevin McShane on Emmett Bradley and Sean O’Neill on Conleth McGuckian, Cargin felt they’d not been given their dues.

But it was clear from very early that the Derry champions weren’t on their own game either. That undoubtedly fed into it.

If Glen are on their game, they won’t be beaten in Ulster by anyone this year.

The second half they produced against Magherafelt served warning.

With Ciaran McFaul back in harness and Danny McDermott looking like a serious find, they’re probably a better side than a year ago too.

And that makes them a potential All-Ireland winning team.

There are only two teams in Ulster in that bracket.

Kilcoo might not survive the weekend, but Glen will.