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Aghagallon Surpass Own Expectations To Reach Another Antrim Final

Aghagallon Surpass Own Expectations To Reach Another Antrim Final
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During the Covid-19 lockdown, when clearing out the attic felt like a weekend break in a European city, Columb Walsh found a newspaper cutting from the early 1980s. It was the Antrim County League Division 4 table. St Mary's Aghagallon sat second from bottom. The small club, based in a small village four miles north of Lurgan, has come a long way since then.

On Sunday, for the second consecutive year, they play in the Antrim Senior Football Championship final, this time against Cargin. Being there is a near-miracle on many levels.

In the semi-final against Roger Casement's Portglenone, they twice looked six-feet under. With four minutes to play in normal time, they trailed by five, but came back to draw the game and take it to extra-time. Towards the end of the additional 20 minutes, they were two down with time almost up, when Adam Loughran scored a dramatic winning goal to send them into the final.

"[We looked] dead and buried, yeah," says Aghagallon chairperson Walsh.

"I'm still not sure how we got out of it. Of all the things that the boys were talking about, I think the only thing that they actually managed to do was to keep playing to the end and keep going forward. Portglenone dominated us the whole way through the game. Thankfully our boys kept going, and we got the breaks."

Last year was Aghagallon's first time reaching the Antrim senior final. They lost by eight points as Creggan won their first title since 1954.

Walsh says that though there is a buzz in the village about being back in the final, it's not the same as last year.

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"Last year was just the biggest, it came out of the blue for us" he says.

"We'd never been in a final before, I don't think we thought we'd ever be in one. It came as a bit of a surprise to us.

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"We always have had reasonable underage teams. At times, you would have thought we had teams good enough to play Division 1. 2011, we got to Division 1 the first time, but only lasted a year.

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"We went back down to Division 3, had a year there, which at the time seemed like a disaster, but looking back it gave us time to blend in some of the young fellas like Pat Brannigan and Eunan (Walsh) who would have been minors that year. We didn't have to play them, but it was a benefit that year. We came back up, and we've been in Division 1 for four or five years.

"We'd have known there was something in this team. We didn't see it coming for maybe another three or four years down the line when most of the boys would have been 27 - 28. That would have been where we would have seen them making an impact.

"It's a wee bit more business like this year. They know there's a job to finish."

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Though they were the beaten finalists last year, Aghagallon getting to this year's decider was unexpected. Due to several injuries and players spending the summer in the US, they finished second from bottom in the league and face a promotion/relegation playoff against All Saints Ballymena less than a week after the final.

"[The previous management team of] Kevin Murray and John felt that they had taken the team as far as they could last year. They stepped down and Audi (Kelly) has come in and done well," Walsh explains.

"Every coach has their own way of doing things. At times, considering what he had to deal with in terms of injuries, I'm sure he wondered what he was coming into. They're buying into him, working well with him.

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"We were disappointed with our performance [in last year's final], but you have to give Creggan their due. They'd been there before, and had that bit more experience. We know we can play better than we did last year.

"We're coming up against Cargin, and over the last 20 years, Cargin have been up there with the best teams in the county. If they hadn't been coming up against the great St Galls teams, they might have had another three, four, five championships on top of what they have at the moment.

"Every player on their team is a name in the county. The young fellas they have, have all been key players at county minor, and U20 teams. They certainly have the experience, and the know-how, and that will be the big factor from their perspective.

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"We'll set our game, hope that we can get a performance, that we can challenge. It's a big ask."

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