Dunloy, Ballymena

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Pressure Off For Underdogs Cargin

Michael McCann leads his Cargin side in the parade before the Antrim county final.

Donegal's footballing aristocrats, CLG Gaoth Dobhair, make the journey to Corrigan Park on Sunday to face a more frugal opponent in Erin's Own Cargin in the Quarter-Final of the Ulster Club SFC.

The Toome side clinched their seventh title in a dour affair a fortnight ago, where they saw off parish rivals Kickham's Creggan by 0-05 to 0-04 in a windswept Ahoghill. The match will not live long in the memory of those present, but as Brendan Crossan put it in the Irish News, Cargin will only remember "the taste of victory".

It is a taste for which the Erin's Own men have been ravenous, swallowing the bitter pill of final defeat on six occasions alongside their title victories, but their opponents boast a much more formidable haul of county titles.

Gaoth Dobhair have amassed fifteen county titles, their victory last month drawing them level at the top of the Donegal Roll of Honour with St Eunan's Letterkenny, and a look through their current squad reveals the enormity of the task facing the Antrim champions.

The Donegal champions boast two former All-Stars in their ranks, with three-time winner Neil McGee at full back joining former winner Kevin Cassidy, who both provide invaluable experience alongside Eamon McGee. This experience is supplemented by the influx of young players from their Ulster U21 Championship-winning side from 2017, while the peerless Odhran Mac Niallais continues to astound, hitting 0-08 in the county final.

Tomás McCann's iconic goal against St Gall's in the Antrim Semi-Final. Pic: John McIlwaine.

The Cargin side are no shrinking violets however, and in Tomás and McCann they have what manager Damian Cassidy described as a "special player" who is a threat to any defence, while Mícheál Magill is a superb ball-winning full forward. Tomás' brother Michael hit the decisive score in the county final, while the youthful exuberance of Ciaran Bradley and Jamie Gribbin is complemented by the championship nous of Justin Crozier, former county captain Kevin O'Boyle and Tony Scullion.

The scoring prowess of these two sides could not be more markedly different. In four championship games, Cargin recorded 2-46 in their four championship games, while in three championship encounters Gaoth Dobhair managed 11-50. Erin's Own averaged 13pts per game with their opponents registering over double that at 28pts per game.

Manager Mervyn O'Donnell is in his second season with the Donegal champions, having been heavily involved with their underage teams before taking on the senior job, while Cargin's high profile manager, former All-Ireland winner Damian Cassidy has brought his winning pedigree to the Toome side this year, as well as finding time to steer his native Wolfe Tones Bellaghy to a Derry MFC title.

Cargin have lifted the McNamee Cup seven times, but can they improve on their Ulster record this weekend?

Cargin's record in the Ulster series is something that has been repeatedly used as a throwaway dismissal of their chances, something that greatly irks the Erin's Own men and they will be determined to build on the momentum gained from an Antrim campaign that required a replay to get past 2017 champions Lámh Dhearg. With the astute Cassidy on the line, you can be assured that the Antrim kingpins will be suitably prepared for all that the Donegal men have to throw at them.

It is hard however to look past the sheer array of talent and pedigree in the Gaoth Dobhair ranks and they enter the gates of Corrigan Park as strong favourites. Cargin won't mind being in the unusual position of being the underdogs, but come Sunday evening the inner sanctum of Teach Hiúdaí Beag could be awash with talk of an Ulster Club SFC Semi-Final.

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