Glenswilly out to clips the Magpies' wings in Ulster Club showdown
AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Owen Roe’s, Kilcoo v Glenswilly (tomorrow, 2.30pm, Pairc Esler)
BOTH are familiar with the terrain, but neither has conquered it. Yet, for whoever emerges from tomorrow’s showdown between Kilcoo and Glenswilly, that could be about to change.
They won’t admit it, but 2016 represents a huge opportunity for both to break their Ulster club duck.
The men from the Glen lost out to Monaghan champions Latton in 2011 and fell at the final hurdle against Ballinderry in 2013, but Kilcoo have suffered heartache on a far greater – and far more regular - scale.
In four of the past five years they have lost to the eventual winners, with the 2012 decider defeat to old foes Crossmaglen the closest they have come.
This year, though, there is no Cross to consider.
Awaiting the winner of the Newry clash is whichever team emerges from the quarter-final between the inexperienced pair of Cavan’s Ramor United and a Maghery side that has just landed its first-ever Armagh title, seeing off Crossmaglen along the way.
As both have learned to their cost in the past, though, there is no easy road to an Ulster club final, never mind actually getting your hands on the Seamus McFerran Cup.
Indeed, Kilcoo have already overcome a huge obstacle to even reach this stage, having edged out Scotstown at Pairc Esler a fortnight ago.
The Monaghan champions made it all the way to the final last year before just coming up short against Cross. But had they got past the Magpies in that preliminary round clash, they too would have been touted as potential provincial champions.
With each passing year, though, Kilcoo’s experience and know-how goes up a notch. Against Scotstown they came out of the blocks slowly but kept cool heads before gradually assuming control.
As a forward unit they are capable of mixing up their attacking play, as the likes of Darragh O’Hanlon and Paul Devlin are capable of delivering long, accurate passes into the forwards.
But Kilcoo look more at home running the ball, with their pace and power proving far too much for Clonduff in the Down final and eventually helping them over the line against Scotstown.
Indeed, the Monaghan champions are not dissimilar in profile or style to Glenswilly, so in that respect it was the perfect preparation for Kilcoo.
Big, strong and not lacking in pace, the Donegal men look made for the autumn ground and any team that can count Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy among their number has to be taken seriously.
Crucially too, they appear to be hitting their stride at the right time. After a disastrous start to their league campaign, during which they were missing 10 players at one point – including the aforementioned county pairing – Glenswilly are beginning to show what they are capable of.
In their own county final, it was the Glen’s sheer size and physicality that proved Kilcar’s undoing. They just couldn’t get to grips with a team packed with six-footers.
Like Kilcoo, Kilcar play a strong running game and were only really able to impose themselves on the game in the second half. The Magpies will have taken note of the difficulties Martin McHugh’s men faced in that first period.
Indeed, Paul McIver’s men aren’t the tallest at the back and it will be interesting to see how they handle the majestic Murphy on the edge of the square.
Monaghan star Darren Hughes was handed a similar role for Scotstown, and he won the first three balls that were played into him before Kilcoo eventually got to grips with his threat.
Murphy cannot be afforded this luxury. As he did in Donegal’s 2012 All-Ireland final win over Mayo, Murphy bagged an early goal against Kilcar that immediately put their opponents on the back foot.
Despite that quick start though, Glenswilly could still easily have lost that game. Kilcar kicked wide after wide as they chased the game, eventually losing out by a solitary score.
It is highly unlikely Kilcoo will be so wasteful. The Down men kicked just three wides to their opponents’ 13 against Scotstown, and have proved they are a composed outfit in front of the posts.
Even without the injured Jerome Johnston, the likes of his brother Ryan, Marty Devlin and former county forward Conor Laverty are more than capable of inflicting maximum damage.
Perhaps as a result of their greater experience on the Ulster stage, and having a win over Scotstown under their belt already, Kilcoo go into tomorrow’s encounter as 2/5 favourites.
But Glenswilly can’t be written off. They were available at crazy odds of 6/1 before the Donegal final, and look what happened there. Yet there is just a feeling that repeating the dose against a talented, seasoned side like Kilcoo could be asking too much.
I fancy the Magpies to edge home and keep their latest Ulster crusade alive.