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Final berths up for grabs across both codes in Antrim

Cargin’s Tómas McCann scored a dramatic injury-time winning goal against St Gall’s in last year’s Antrim SFC semi-final at Creggan and the sides renew their rivalry at the same stage of this year’s Championship at Corrigan Park this Sunday evening Cargin’s Tómas McCann scored a dramatic injury-time winning goal against St Gall’s in last year’s Antrim SFC semi-final at Creggan and the sides renew their rivalry at the same stage of this year’s Championship at Corrigan Park this Sunday evening
By Paddy Tierney

IT’S another huge weekend in the Antrim Club Championships with two semi-finals down for decision in football, while there is also a semi-final replay in hurling.

Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship semi-finals
Lámh Dhearg v Portglenone (Creggan, Saturday, 5pm)

LÁMH Dhearg captain John Finucane says his side have been well-warned as to the threat posed by Saturday’s Antrim’s SFC opponents Portglenone.

The Red Hands were, arguably, the most impressive quarter-final winners when they defeated last year’s beaten finalists Creggan 1-13 to 0-11 at Glenavy.

Yet, Portglenone claimed the biggest scalp when they knocked out a highly-fancied St John’s outfit in their quarter-final replay at Coláiste Feirste last Wednesday night following a dramatic drawn game in Ahoghill four days earlier.

Intermediate champions back in 2014, Casement’s have established themselves as a genuine Division One outfit in recent years, but have failed to make a mark in the Senior Championship – until last week.

In the drawn game, they looked on course for victory until Pearse Donnelly’s remarkable injury-time goal nearly stole a win for the Johnnies before Conal Delargy kept his cool to equalise.

Many observers felt Portglenone had missed the boat, but that wasn’t a view shared by Finucane, who was in attendance to witness the 1-12 to 2-6 win for Casement’s last week.

“I wasn’t at the first game, but I didn’t buy into that notion,” stated Finucane.

“No disrespect to St John’s, but I fancied Portglenone in both the first game and in the replay.

“They’ve beaten us twice in the league this year. They are young, they are very fast and they move the ball very well.

“They are smart with the ball and there is a hunger there. It didn’t surprise me at all with how they won the replay and they are fully deserving of their place in the last four and I think they are a very dangerous side.

“I think all four teams are probably looking at the Championship believing they can win. I think it is a very evenly balanced Championship this year and I think we’ve a very difficult task.”

St Gall’s v Cargin (Corrigan Park, Sunday, 5.30pm)
SEAN Lavery’s full-time whistle had barely sounded and already St Gall’s were looking ahead to Cargin – quite literally.

Immediately after St Gall’s defeated Aghagallon 1-16 to 1-9 at Creggan, Sean Kelly’s men were greeted by the sight of the reigning county champions charging towards them to begin their pre-match warm-up prior to their clash with Rossa.

Spectators pondered if they would be treated to a spectacle similar to Dublin and Mayo’s infamous ‘battle for the hill’ in 2006. Alas, nothing came of it, but the boldness of the move didn’t go unnoticed by the St Gall’s players, who finished their cool-down on the very surface of last year’s remarkable semi-final loss to Damien Cassidy’s men.

Tómas McCann’s stunning late winning goal provided the fitting finale to one of the best club Championship games in recent times with Cargin beating their rivals 2-17 to 4-10.

Of course, that’s of no consolation to the St Gall’s boss, who insists that the 2018 semi-final is “done and dusted” even if he admits the loss was bitterly disappointing for the West Belfast men.

“Last year game is done and dusted with us – it was disappointing, obviously,” said Kelly.

“When you concede 23 points in a game, there’s something wrong and you don’t deserve to win. That was the way we looked at it.

“We know from previous history, things change. We can’t expect this weekend’s game to be a similar game to last year – it could turn out to be, but lightening rarely strikes twice.

“They are usually good games and each team knows the level each other is at. The intensity levels are usually raised and both teams want to go out and play football. We go toe-to-toe and there usually isn’t a massive amount between us.”

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final replay
St John’s v Cushendall (Dunloy, Sunday, 1.30pm)

ST JOHN’S must be wondering what exactly it is they need to do to get the better of Cushendall in the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship writes David Mohan, but they will get another opportunity in Dunloy this weekend in a semi-final replay following Sunday’s thrilling draw.

Despite trailing by eight late in the first half, the Johnnies showed all of their character to drag themselves back into this game and it seemed like they were set for victory when Padraig Nugent converted a 65 for his 12th point of the game deep in stoppage time.

However, there was still time for late drama as Fergus McCambridge galloped in on goal and his shot for an equaliser was initially waved wide, but overruled by referee Colum Cunning in what was the final act of a pulsating encounter that left the huge crowd in Ballycastle gripped to the last.

Television replays proved the Dunloy whistler got the call right, but it was still somewhat deflating for the Johnnies who thought they had finally got the better of Ruairi Og.

It wasn’t to be on the day, so like last year, these teams must do it all again for a place in the final with Dunloy – the scene of last year’s drawn game – the venue to decide who will go on and face the Cuchullains in the final.

“There’s nothing between us again,” said St John’s manager, Tony McNulty after the game.

“We gave them a hell of a start again, going eight points down, but we showed great character to come back.

“I think the (football) game midweek maybe took a bit out of our players because we had seven or eight lads played there in both so that’s hard for everybody.

“We’ll get a week to recover now and get some time out on the training field, so we are where we are.”

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