Kilcoo defeat Clonduff to win their fifth consecutive and 14th Down Senior Football Championship
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship final: Kilcoo 3-11 Clonduff 0-9
APPARENTLY someone described this Kilcoo side as ‘a pale shadow of former teams’.
If that’s the case then their predecessors must have been on another planet because the Magpies’ class of 2016 proved yesterday that they are head and shoulders above any other team in Down.
A devastating five-minute spell of quality attacking football midway through the first half produced 2-4 and decided this final and saw Kilcoo ease to their 14th title and into another Ulster campaign with Monaghan champions Scotstown or Clontibret first up on October 15.
After avenging an early loss to Burren in the semi-final and coasting home by 11 points in the decider Kilcoo have silenced their critics emphatically and Conor Laverty, who accepted the Frank O’Hare Cup (his sixth) alongside Aidan Branagan, said he never doubted the quality in the squad.
“‘A pale shadow of former teams’ was a quote, but we knew what we were capable of and we knew the quality that we have and the players that were coming back in,” he said.
“We were building all year and progressing just nicely.”
The former Down skipper and All-Ireland finalist reflected on the blood, sweat and tears that took the club to this stage.
“We have six championship medals but for a long time we didn’t think we’d get any,” he said.
“We won the league in 2003 but it was a long way to 2009 and a lot of hard work and a lot of defeats and a lot of hard times, but thankfully we have six and the five in-a-row is very special too. It’s the first time that any team in the club has done it.”
No doubt manager Paul McIver has spotted things to work on despite yesterday’s victory, but his side will go into their showdown with the Monaghan champs full of confidence.
With the wind at their backs and the Clonduff defenders’ squinting into a low sun, Kilcoo hit the ball long at every opportunity early on and their opening point came when Martin Devlin caught Darragh O’Hanlon’s booming free and fisted over.
But with Darren O’Hagan prominent in defence, Clonduff fought their way back into the game and his brother Barry stylishly cracked over an equaliser with six minutes gone.
Ruairi Lively’s challenge on Niall Branagan suggested that a hammer-and-tongs battle was developing and for the next 10 minutes or so there didn’t look to be much between the sides.
But Kilcoo took control – at first gradually, then devastatingly. James McClean’s pacey break from midfield allowed Laverty to switch the ball to Devlin who popped over his second of the game.
His elder brother Paul extended the lead and then the heavens opened – five minutes, two goals and four points later the game was decided.
McClean swung over a point before Laverty’s sideline ball was flicked into the net by Aaron Morgan. Seconds later, Daryll Branagan joined the attack and tucked the ball into the Clonduff net with a neat finish and points from Ryan Johnston and Laverty followed as the Hilltown outfit disintegrated.
After 21 minutes the score was 2-6 to 0-1 and from there to the break Clonduff chased shadows as Martin Devlin and a Darragh O’Hanlon free extended the lead to an unassailable 13 points.
The horse had bolted, but to their credit ‘the yellows’ won the second half; scoring eight points to Kilcoo’s 1-3.
Barry O’Hagan, who gave an exhibition in attack, was on the mark after Patrick O’Hagan had opened the second half with an early point.
Paul Devlin replied, but two frees from Stephen McConville – both after fouls on O’Hagan – meant the gap had closed to 2-9 to 0-5 and a goal for Clonduff at that stage might have made it interesting.
But Kilcoo killed off the remote possibility of a comeback when Ceilum Doherty stabbed home their third major and with Ryan Johnston controlling the game around the midfield they never looked in danger.
Laverty’s workrate typifies Kilcoo. The game was won but he never eased off the throttle – the former Down star committed a foul around midfield and then raced back towards his own goal before Clonduff could take the free.
When the ball eventually came in Laverty was the one who tidied up at the back after Niall Kane had punched away Barry O’Hagan’s shot.
O’Hagan landed his fourth point and two more frees from McConville followed in between a JJ McLoughlin point for Kilcoo who had Eugene Branagan red-carded late in the piece.
Clonduff fought on to the finish – O’Hagan thudded a shot off the bar – but the whistle was blessed relief for them and Kilcoo celebrated with a fifth Down title on-the-trot. Ulster is next and, as ever, it’ll take a good team to stop them.