By Michael McMullan
CREGGAN’S Odhrán McLarnon has said the winning feeling after the Antrim Senior Championship final was beyond their wildest dreams.
He also believes the moment they brought the Paddy McNamee Cup into the parish for the first time in 67 years would inspire generations to come.
An injury-time goal sealed their 1-12 to 0-7 win over Aghagallon to spark an emotionally-charged evening.
His uncle Gerard, a former club underage coach, spent eight weeks in intensive care last year after sustaining Covid-19. His return home from hospital saw the avenue to his home lined with well-wishers, clapping with gusto, some decked in the green and gold of his beloved Creggan.
Fast forward to Sunday and the scene had changed. This time it was Gerard congratulating midfielder Conor McCann after victory on the Corrigan Park sod.
“Outside of football, there is life. Gerard had a tough time and he is out the other side,” Odhrán said. “It was great to make people like that smile again.”
The victorious squad was ferried on the back of a lorry into the club grounds, a journey they’d made countless times before. This was different. They were the county’s top dogs.
“It was an amazing feeling seeing all the families and the kids, [it felt like we were] inspiring younger generations of people.
“The real servants of the club, past players, people of older generations doing everything in their power to make us the best versions of ourselves…yesterday was all about them. We are in a privileged position that we were fit to perform for the team and deliver a first championship in 67 years.”
While Creggan had been close to victory in recent seasons, the foundations for glory were built many years before.
“I was part of the 2008 minor winning team, then we won the U21 in 2009 and 2011. It was another 10 years until we were back there with that winning feeling, longer than we’d have hoped for,” explains Odhrán, now in his 14th season of senior football.
Speaking on Monday morning, the magnitude of the success had yet to sink in for McCann. Euphoria was pulsing around his veins.
“It was everything we dreamt of and more,” he said.
“It was overwhelming joy and a sense of relief as well. To celebrate with the boys that you grew up with and you’ve shouldered with for so long, it was an incredible feeling.”
Many neutrals will point to their win over Cargin as the defining moment of the season. While Odhran agrees its importance, he felt his side didn’t get the credit they deserved for seeing off St John’s in the quarter-final.
“We were written off in so many aspects going into the Cargin game, which was quite surprising given how close things had been more recently for us,” McLarnon said.
Within the cocoon of their squad, they had the belief despite trailing at half-time. Holding the champions to just two points was the bedrock of their win. But they only had one foot in the winners’ enclosure.
“We were fully away that there was no cup on the table and we didn’t start out at the start of the year to win a semi-final,” he stressed.
During the two weeks ahead of the final, they stepped up their training another notch. Coach Martin McElkennon’s conditioning over recent seasons had set them in good stead.
Manager Gerard McNulty had built a formidable management team including his brother Thomas, Peter McCollum and Paul Russell.
“Enda Muldoon has been in with us for a good part of this year as well,” said McLarnon who points to the ‘massive’ contribution made by the management.
“Our training sessions leading up to the final were the best two weeks training of the year and we weren’t going to let Sunday slip past.”
They had waited long enough. It was their time.