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Creggan aim to give Antrim hurling surprise boost

By Declan Bogue

What a pity for those more ecumenical hurling followers of Antrim that the Loughgiel Shamrocks tussle with Mount Leinster Rangers will clash with the All-Ireland junior club final, when Creggan Kickhams meet Waterford's Ballysaggart today at Croke Park.

Hailing from the south west of Antrim, that area does not have the same cachet as the north of the county.

Mind you, it has always been present in Creggan, a club that originally began life as a hurling team, branching into football later on. Former goalkeeper John Hurl was between the sticks for Antrim when they reached the 1943 All-Ireland final against Cork.

Pat McKeown, Gerry McAteer and Patsy Maguire are others to have worn the Saffron jersey with distinction down through the years and in recent times it has been lively corner-forward Conor McCann, with his eye for goal that first attracted Dinny Cahill, putting Kickhams back on the Antrim teamsheet.

The run to the final has been a real family affair, with brother Thomas at midfield, sister Colleen Kelly the first-aid medic and father Thomas the team manager.

"It's no harder than managing them at home!" quips Thomas when asked about the potential pitfalls of being the manager of his two sons.

"I don't see any problem with it," he shrugs. "I managed them up right through, along with another few people, and I don't see any difference.

"I don't treat them any different or any worse than anybody else although I might be a bit harder on them. It's hard to say from a father's point of view but they are just part of the whole set-up the same way anybody else is part of the set-up."

McCann was the manager when Creggan last got a run at this level, getting to the Ulster final in 2011 before being beaten by Donegal's Burt.

Just before Christmas they grabbed that title when edging past Craobh Rua of Armagh in the final, before turning over a half-time deficit to Fullen Gaels of Manchester in the All-Ireland semi-final almost a fortnight ago.

Today they get to run out in Croke Park for an All-Ireland final.

You might remember the name of free-scoring Waterford minor Stephen Bennett as they won the All-Ireland title last September. Along with his brother Shane, they are the key players for Ballysaggart.

Outside of that, getting information has proven difficult. A request to Croke Park for a DVD of one of their recent games led to a response that neither team would receive the DVD of each other.

Then, there is the Croke Park factor. You will never play faster hurling than on Croke Park.

"We have been trying to play it down, that it's another game. It's where everybody wants to play and where our boys deserve to be. We are telling them the truth really," is McCann's assessment.

"It's not easy taking the sting out of it, you can only tell them to keep their feet on the ground, enjoy the occasion and not get nervous, but it's not easy."

He adds: "We are just trying to get them to feel they deserve to be there and to try their best and hurl their best.

"If they can do that we hope to be close near the end."

Antrim hurling could do with a feelgood story. The odds are against them, but then again, it didn't discourage Conor when he lined out against Wexford for the county under-21s last summer ...

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