By Michael McMullan
WINNING back the Paddy McNamee Cup was the priority on Cargin’s radar, but manager Ronan Devlin admits there was more ambition hidden deeper in the squad’s psyche.
After losing to Creggan in last year’s semi-final, hurt focused the mind on climbing back to the top of the tree in Antrim.
Former All-Ireland champions St Gall’s were the last Antrim side to win a game in the competition, their 1-15 to 0-9 win over Tempo before losing to an emerging Kilcoo team in 2012.
“We made no secrets about it this year was about going into Ulster and making a dent in it,” Devlin said of their hopes for the season.
“We won the Antrim championship and that should be the bare minimum, you want to go on and give a good account of ourselves….we don’t feel like we have done ourselves justice (in Ulster).”
It was looking like a pipe dream when a third goal catapulted 2021 beaten finalists Aghagallon into an eight-point lead as the county final ticked into the second half.
”I didn’t expect myself to be calm at all,” Devlin jokes about the moment their season looked like evaporating.
“A supporter told me after the game that her heart rate was 180 plus and I went back and checked mine, it was 109 for the day and that was after the game.
“At eight down I was far from calm inside. Although you never think you are beat, it was looking very unlikely at that point.”
Devlin put the team’s ability to dig their way back from the depths of despair down to an impressive team spirit and buzz in the camp.
Was there something different this year or were the players locked in better than last season? He’s not sure.
“Sometimes it can be something like getting a couple of wins, a couple of wins when you battle, that brings team spirit,” Devlin offers.
“When you come through extra-time a couple of times, it definitely stands to you, but that one there (final against Aghagallon) will test any team.”
Devlin felt his team were playing well, but accepted that conceding three goals invariably always points to a losing camp.
When he scratched the surface on Cargin’s comeback, it was their calmness that ruled supreme.
“They were happy to take a point and another point. If you keep doing that, you are soon back to five,” he said.
“Some teams panic and hoof it in thinking they need goals, but they didn’t do that. They backed themselves and that was encouraging.”
Looking back to last season and scoring a paltry two points in the second half against Creggan saw them drop out of the championship with a whimper.
After five minutes Cargin were five points up and Devlin remembers thinking his side looked like winning by “a cricket score” until Creggan reeled them in,
“We went out without a fight, the opposite to this year,” Devlin said. “I haven’t put my finger on it, but we have moved on and I’m happy enough. Luckily they haven’t forgotent how to win.”
Another factor was an injection of youth into a Cargin camp some insisted were over the hill.
Pat Shivers, Sean O’Neill, Benen Kelly and Cahir Donnelly were among players that could’ve been named at young player of the year in the recent Antrim GAA awards scheme. There are shoots of hope coming from the current u-20 team,
“They have won four of five (senior championships) and look anything but done,” Devlin said.
Pitting themselves against an equally experienced Naomh Conaill team is the next step, but only one can make it to the last four.