GAA Football

Nowhere to hide in Páirc Esler as Kilcoo take on Mayobridge

Jerome Johnston will play an important role for Kilcoo in Friday's Down SFC semi-final
Andy Watters

THIS is the final that could have been and there will be no hiding place when these Down heavyweights go at it at Páirc Esler on Friday.

Between them, these clubs has won nine of the last 11 Mourne county titles and Friday's victor will be short odds in the final against the winners of Castlewellan versus Ballyholland on Sunday. The last of Mayobridge’s 10 titles came in 2008, while Kilcoo won their 13th and completed a three in-a-row when they won last season. That run included a nail-biting semi-final win over Mayobridge and Kilcoo manager Paul McIver expects more of the same on Friday night.

“Every game in the championship is tough and no more so than Mayobridge,” McIver said.

Last year’s remarkable game began with two goals for the ‘Bridge inside the first five minutes, but they managed just six more scores in the remainder of the game and Kilcoo won it at the death by 2-12 to 3-5.

“The players know what to expect, but it’s a new year, we have new players involved and last year will have absolutely no bearing on tonight’s performance, so we’ll just take it as it comes,” said McIver.

“We have players who have come in and freshened everything up and it has been great. Some of them didn’t take part in last year’s championship at all, but they’ve broken in this year.”

The new faces include Dylan Ward, Micheál Rooney and Mourne U21 pair Marty Devlin and Aidan Fulcher. Of course, McIver wasn’t involved last season either. He took over from Jim McCorry who left for a one-season stint with Down after seven years with the Magpies.

“The quality of the football [in Down] has been very good,” said McIver.

“I’ve actually been surprised because there’s a lot of really good players in Down who stand out in different teams and aren’t even a part of the county panel. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ballinderry and Dromore in the past, so I know Tyrone and Derry football and I have to say Tyrone club football is very much the same. Whoever is in charge [of Down next year], there’s plenty of talent from what I have seen.”

There are some new personnel, but Kilcoo showed the fighting spirit that has become their hallmark when they recovered from six points down at half-time to beat Burren in the quarter-final.

“These players don’t get enough credit,” said Derry U21 manager McIver of his squad.

“It wouldn’t matter who was over Kilcoo. These are a super bunch of players who have been brought up through a really good coaching structure at underage level and I’m only there as a peripheral figure to help them achieve the best that they possibly can.

“All the credit must go to the players – the training, the effort they put into the game, the countless hours they do off the field… I just can’t express how committed this bunch of players are. They just have that fighting spirit among them, that desire among themselves to be the best they can be.

“If all things are done fair on Friday night and for the rest of the championship, their ability will shine through and that’s all the players want – they want a fair crack of the whip in every aspect of the game. Whatever happens after that, happens.”

Mayobridge won the league meeting between the sides, but Kilcoo have had the better of them in the championship in recent years – they won the last final meeting in 2012 by three points.

“Mayobridge don’t fear Kilcoo and Kilcoo don’t fear Mayobridge,” said McIver, who will be without James McClean on Friday night.

“If the game is let go and the players are allowed to play football, it will be an absolutely super game because both teams are full of very talented individuals.”

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