Updated: Oct 17, 2018
"There’s no doubt that it was a special moment and it takes a special player with the class that Tomás has to do what he did."
Cargin manager Damian Cassidy is effusive with praise for Semi-Final hero Tomás McCann, whose late goal in Creggan earned his Erin's Own set up a place in the first ever all-South West Antrim championship final in Ahoghill this Sunday.
With McCann standing in front of a packed St Gall's goalmouth, Cassidy would have been forgiven for fearing the worst, but the former Derry manager is a self-proclaimed eternal optimist.
" I’m one of these people that always sees the glass half full. The teams that I’ve worked with, I’ve always tried to preach that the game’s not over til we decide that it’s over. Ultimately, when the referee blows the whistle."
This attitude may have been helped by previous experience with Clonoe a few seasons ago:
" Funny enough, two years ago in Clonoe, we were in a very similar position where Danny McNulty crashed a goal three minutes into injury time in a replay against Omagh."
The boundaries of Cassidy's optimism must have been sorely tested over the course of an inconsistent league season in which they have suffered four defeats, including the most recent during a meaningless game last Sunday against their final opponents.
Although reporting a clean bill of health ahead of the final, Cassidy feels that the squad deserve recognition for being adaptable enough to cope with losing key men at different times, having suffered injuries throughout the course of the season:
" We’ve been very acclimatised to playing with our panel not at full strength. The panel deserves an awful lot of credit for absorbing the losses that we had. Over the league campaign, every game we had five, six, seven players off our panel that would be viewed as significant players."
"It meant that you had that ability during games to rotate your panel around to ensure everyone was getting the match fitness that was required," he continues, "but what it does do is develop a level of resilience within the panel and we knew ourselves, as we went through each round of the championship, another player would be coming back and somebody else would be getting fitter and that’s what has happened."
Having worked in both Derry and Tyrone, this year has seen Damian Cassidy's first foray into Antrim club football with Cargin and he admits that some of the fixture scheduling has left him "baffled".
" We had a game there yesterday for example and another game down for after the final, dead rubber games. We went through the league game with St Gall’s and there was nothing for three weeks and then we were lucky enough that we agreed with Creggan on the O’Cahan Cup."
" If that O’Cahan Cup hadn’t been on then there would have been nothing, just a big void, and then the championship, so we were lucky enough the Lámh Dhearg game was there."
Although he feels his side were below par in the first game against Lámh Dhearg, Cassidy admits he was grateful for the second game, as it helped to fill some of the gaps that had been left with the fixture scheduling:
" Whilst we were in many ways the authors of our own downfall in respect of the draw, at the same time, the extra game was very useful because it made up for the games that the league fixtures did not provide."
Primed in the opposition corner on Sunday afternoon will be a man that Cassidy knows very well.
The 1993 All-Ireland winner was part of the legendary Eamonn Coleman's management team in 2000, when a young Kevin Madden was sprung from the Antrim bench to prove the catalyst for a stirring comeback, the Saffrons only denied victory by the Herculean effort of Anthony Tohill in the dying moments, plucking Cargin man Sheeny McQuillan's free from above the Derry crossbar.
Madden and Cassidy would later work together when the the latter assumed the Derry mantle in 2008, but the Portglenone man will be in the opposition dug out in Ahoghill this week. It''s an encounter that he is eagerly anticipating.
"We have been in opposite corners before," laughs Cassidy, "Kevin was coach with Glenullin when they beat Bellaghy in the 2007 final after a replay and Kevin was part of Liam Bradley’s management team."
"We have cemented a fairly good relationship, we worked together with Derry and since that we’ve been pretty good mates, in contact fairly regularly now and would have many a conversation around football, so from that point of view I’ll be looking forward to it on Sunday to see how astute his tactical brain is during the game."
The tactical brains of both managers will be significantly aided by having a wealth of talent at their disposal for Sunday's game. If Tomás McCann provides Cargin's velvet glove, it's brother Michael who helps supply the iron fist that fills it.
Alongside the McCann brothers, the defensive trio of Justin Crozier, Tony Scullion and Kevin O'Boyle seem to have been rallying to the Cargin cause since time immemorial, while Enda McGroggan and Jamie Gribbin are a handful in attack.
Captain Conor McCann drives the team forward from midfield, with the Small brothers Kevin and Conor adding youth and quality to their forward unit. Ricky Johnston and the speedy Sam Maguire help shore up the defence, with the latter given license to roam forward.
Discounting last Sunday's dress rehearsal, this season's head-to-head results see these sides locked on a win apiece, Cargin edging a pulsating league encounter earlier in the season, while Creggan claimed victory in the O'Cahan Cup final in early September.
The Kickham's side defeated local rivals Ahoghill and last year's runners-up St John's to reach the decider, their first in 41 years, but with Erin's Own having taken a replay to see off champions Lámh Dhearg before dispensing with St Gall's in the Semi-Final, their momentum and pedigree sees them enter the final as favourites.
Damian Cassidy will be hoping the insatiable appetite for football that saw him guide his native Wolfe Tones Bellaghy to Derry Minor Football Championship glory for the first time in 24 years last Sunday will see him celebrating two county titles within seven days of each other this weekend. He is confident his team are well-prepared and ready to win back the title they relinquished last year:
" Whilst I can’t turn round and say we are 100% as fully functional as we’d want to be, we’re in the best shape we could be in going into this game."
Expect a full-blooded local encounter in front of a bumper crowd in Ahoghill this Sunday afternoon as the parish rivals collide in the heat of battle.