GAA Football

Five-in-a-row not in Kilcoo's thinking insists Paul McIver

Both Jerome Johnston (left) and his brother Ryan remain sidelined as Kilcoo kick off the defence of their Down SFC title
Picture by Philip Walsh

KILCOO manager Paul McIver says a potentially historic five in-a-row hasn’t been mentioned in the Magpies’ changing-room as they prepare to begin the defence of their Down senior football title.

Success this summer would bring Kilcoo into line with the great Burren team of the 1980s and the Mayobridge teams of the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, won each five successive titles in their pomp.

The first test comes on Thursday night against a Saval side who were routinely dismissed in a league game last Friday night, a 0-20 to 0-7 margin “flattering” the winners, according to McIver.

Of the team which claimed a fourth consecutive county title last year, Kilcoo will be down a considerable chunk of regulars. 

Brothers Ryan and Jerome Johnston remain sidelined with injury, while goalkeeper Steven Kane and defenders Niall Branagan and Niall McEvoy are all on honeymoon.

Midfielder Paul Greenan is currently in Australia, while injury rules out Aaron Branagan and James McClean.

Anthony Devlin, Niall Morgan and Donal Kane have all retired, while youngster Dylan Ward is on holiday.

Playing down the significance of becoming only the third team in the history of Down football to achieve five in-a-row, McIver insists such talk only adds to the pressure of retaining their title: “It hasn’t been talked about, to be truthful. When we came in, we made it known that we always take it one step at a time.

“We don’t look at history books. If it’s there and it’s done at the end of the year, then we get the reward for it, but we only ever really talk about the next step. If you look at that and put added pressure on yourself, you ultimately fall flat on your face. We just look at the next step and see what happens.”

That Burren team of the 1980s appeared in six successive Ulster club finals from 1983 to '88, winning five of them.

Provincial honours have eluded Kilcoo on this run of success, with their best chance dismantled by McIver’s native Ballinderry at the semi-final stage in 2013.

In going on to an 11th Ulster title, Crossmaglen ended their hopes last autumn with a four-point win in front of over 9,500 people at a sodden Páirc Esler.

The pain of that defeat and the hope of earning another shot at the Seamus McFerran Cup is what will drive the reigning Down champions this year, says their manager.

Kilcoo are chasing a fifth Down SFC title in-a-row, which would bring them alongside the great Mayobridge team of the 1990s and Burren side of the 1980s in recording the historic achievement

“It wasn’t as if we fell flat. We had a real good win over the Cavan champions [Kingscourt] and then, unfortunately, we came to a real horrific day in Newry, where we had Crossmaglen, who are the best club team in Ireland the last 15 years," he said.

“The conditions really didn’t help our style of play and our system. The players feel so much disappointment from that that it’s driving them on this year. 

"They want to take every game as it comes as well. Because they had got so far in previous years, they started to look ahead and, once you do that, as I said, you fall flat on your face.

“Please God, we take it one step at a time and, if we get back to that situation, they have that hurt to drive them on.

"I wouldn’t say it was anything to be ashamed of, being beaten by three points by Crossmaglen in a game that we dominated for large portions. Unfortunately, we made far too many silly individual errors.”

Friday night sees Mayobridge take on Rostrevor in the first of a Páirc Esler double-header. 

The second game is the much-anticipated clash of Ballyholland and Clonduff, who were only separated by a late Joe Murtagh goal that knocked Clonduff out when they met in last year’s group stage.

The format has changed for this season’s competition, with the round-robin stage replaced by a backdoor system similar to that employed in Derry up until this year, where first round winners will meet on one side of the draw and first round losers will meet on the other.

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