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Red Hands seeking to finish the job

Eoin McKeown bursts past Tony Scullion during Sunday’s drawn game between Lámh Dhearg and Cargin at Corrigan Park. They return to the Whiterock Road venue to determine who will be this year’s Antrim Senior Football Championship winners on Saturday Eoin McKeown bursts past Tony Scullion during Sunday’s drawn game between Lámh Dhearg and Cargin at Corrigan Park. They return to the Whiterock Road venue to determine who will be this year’s Antrim Senior Football Championship winners on Saturday
By Paddy Tierney

Northern Switchgear Antrim SFC final replay; Cargin v Lámh Dhearg (Corrigan park, 4pm, Saturday)

RARELY has the battle for the Padraig McNamee Cup taken so many twists and turns and there are likely to be a few more on Saturday afternoon when Lámh Dhearg and Cargin meet at Corrigan Park for the Antrim SFC final replay.

The 2017 winners looked to be on course for their fourth county title and they led by five points with 42 minutes played.

However, Cargin illustrated why they are they defending champions. When the chips are down, the Toome men invariably find the scores they need.

And, more often than not, Tómas McCann is the man to step up to the plate.

His siblings, Michael and Paul had played their part in getting Cargin back into the contest.

Paul set up Michael for the game’s only goal midway through the second half while contributing a brace of points himself.

Yet, they still needed a dramatic late free from Tómas to salvage a draw. The same player claimed a draw for Cargin in their quarter-final clash against Lámh Dhearg last year and scored a stunning winning goal from a free to snatch a remarkable win over St Gall’s in the semi-final last year.

With just 30 seconds of injury-time remaining, McCann calmly stroked the ball over John Finucane’s crossbar to tie the game at 1-10 to 0-13 and Sean Lavery’s full-time blew soon after.

The body language of the Lámh Dhearg players as they left the pitch suggested they know they had a great opportunity to put Cargin away. The fear for the Hannahstown men now is they won’t have as good a chance on Saturday.

Their manager, Mairtín Lynch, doesn’t buy into that theory, though, and insists his side will learn plenty from the drawn game.

“They have to go and regroup the same as we have to go and regroup. The one thing about this team, we are full of character,” said Lynch.

“And the never-say-die attitude is something… I think the way they talked to each other, they are just so frustrated, they know they should have won the Championship. But they didn’t! But they will do it the next time.

“I think if the frustrations of the players, if you look over that match, the only thing wrong was they didn’t manage it in the last 10 minutes. They had Cargin dead and buried.

“In fairness, they are county champions and that’s why they are, because they can come back.

“But the frustrations, it was because they put them to the sword for 50, 55 minutes and then let them back into it for the last five. I think that’s normal in sport, it’s part of game-management. Those guys have been through the mill, the top team in Antrim for the last five, six years, fighting it out with St Gall’s. We need to learn that too.”

Arguably, Lynch has much more reason to be positive ahead of Saturday’s replay than his Cargin counterpart Damien Cassidy.

Despite the absence of the injured Pearse Fitzsimons, Lámh Dhearg shaded the midfield battle with Declan Dunne, in particular, putting in a great shift.

Ben Rice scored three points from wing-back in a man-of-the-match performance, while Eoin McKeown caused Cargin plenty of problems with his searing pace. Goalkeeper Finucane also made two fine saves and his kick-outs were solid.

It is unlikely the Lámh Dhearg management will make too many tweaks to their team for Saturday’s replay judging by Lynch’s post-match comments.

“Yeah, the gameplan worked out well for us,” he added.

“We had our match-ups and mark-ups done right. We think we called it right in terms of how we set ourselves up.

“Cargin are county champions though. And they are league champions, and they are not that for nothing.

“So I think the way we set up had a sense that we overran them in the first half. The killer factor was that we missed goals. We made mistakes but we missed goals and had opportunities twice in the last fifteen to take goals and we didn’t take them. So that was something we will have to work on and come back to.”

While Lámh Dhearg are likely to field a similar starting 15, Cargin are likely to be forced to change theirs.

Veteran half-back Tony Scullion was withdrawn late in the first half with a hamstring injury which will, in all probability, rule the former Antrim star out of Saturday’s replay.

John Carron also picked up an early booking and was called ashore before the break with his replacement, Gerard McCann impressing in the second half.

Pat Shivers will also be available for selection from the start after Cassidy opted against playing the prodigious attacker after he featured in the preceding minor game, helping Cargin defeat St Brigid’s by four points.

At 6’5, Shivers could slot into midfield, where he plays for the minors, alongside Gerard McCann, allowing Michael McCann to remain at centre-forward with Michael Magill at full-forward.

Cargin will also be keen to get Jamie Gribben on the ball more closer to goal, but Lámh Dhearg were excellent at winning breaking ball in both halves on Sunday.

What the Red Hands lacked was the killer instinct in the closing stages. Cargin had touched the canvas a few times on Sunday, but Lámh Dhearg failed to land the knock-out blow.

The best chance fell to McKeown, who was played through on goal following an excellent move involving Conor Murray and Marc Jordan. However, his shot lacked conviction as he attempted to sidefoot the ball past John McNabb, who made a routine save. The move was called back for a foul on Jordan and Cunningham, who converted six frees, made no mistake from 20 yards out.

Late black cards issued to Ryan Murray, Michael Herron followed an earlier black card shown to Ryan Stranney and another black this Saturday would rule Murray out of a potential Ulster Club opener against Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly on Sunday week.

Discipline will be key for both teams this weekend. The margins are so fine between the sides that losing a key player could tip the scales in favour of the opposition.

Lámh Dhearg were also involved the last time the county final went to a replay – losing the 2003 decider to St Gall’s.

The Hannahstown men also suffered a 0-11 to 0-5 loss to Cargin in their quarter-final replay last year at Corrigan Park. It is unlikely that either side will secure that margin of victory in Saturday’s replay.

The prospect of extra-time and even an historic penalty shoot-out cannot be ruled out. However, a more composed final five minutes would have seen Lámh Dhearg crowned champions last weekend and the Red Hands can finish the job at the second attempt.

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