Change in mindset could drive Kilcoo to Ulster club title says Anthony Devlin
FORMER Kilcoo stalwart Anthony Devlin believes a change in the club’s mentality over recent years could drive the Magpies closer to the Holy Grail - a first-ever Ulster title.
The Down champions have long been knocking on the door but thus far the Séamus McFerran Cup has eluded them and, this Sunday, Maghery stand between Kilcoo and a second provincial decider in five years.
Devlin was part of the Magpies team that ended a 72-year wait for the county title back in 2009 and, having dominated the Down scene since 2012, he says a switch in focus to conquering Ulster makes them a serious proposition.
“The first couple of years we won the championship, it was only really a bonus to get into Ulster. You’d probably find that with any team who had gone a while without any silverware,” said Devlin.
“But three or four years in you start to think there’s no point in being there if you’re not going to push on and try to do something. Especially the last two years - Jim McCorry’s last and now with Paul McIver in there - there’s been a big emphasis on it.
“Winning the [county] championship is a major achievement, but you need to push on and try that bit harder if you want to achieve more. The boys probably look at it now like they have been working five years for this opportunity. It’ll be very tough, but they’re in with a good shout.”
Kilcoo had a running battle with Crossmaglen as they attempted to make a mark in Ulster and Devlin admits finally getting the better of the then Armagh kingpins back in 2013 lifted a weight off the Magpies’ shoulders.
Orchard county opposition lie in wait again this weekend, but this time it is Kilcoo who will start as strong favourites against a Maghery side competing in their first-ever Ulster championship.
It may not be Cross looking back at the Kilcoo players when they line out at Pairc Esler, but the Magpies must treat Maghery with the same respect as their much-vaunted former foes insists Devlin.
He said: “When we beat Cross a few years ago, it was big psychological thing to get over.
“I know last year they beat us, but going into that game we believed we could win that match, whereas in the past when you were playing Crossmaglen you were nearly thinking these men are unbeatable. That changed after we got the win.
“Maghery are probably looking at Kilcoo thinking they’re a team they could beat on a good day. I was talking to a couple of the boys and they’re not underestimating them. I’ve asked them how they rate their chances in Ulster and they’re just looking at Maghery. That attitude has been drilled into them.”
After a long and distinguished career in the black jersey, 36-year-old Devlin hung up his boots at the start of the season - and he feels he made the right call after seeing the emergence of some new and exciting talent.
“It was a very difficult decision to walk away and Paul [McIver] was doing his best right throughout the year, asking me to keep at it. He was very encouraging, he didn’t want anybody leaving," he said.
“In fairness to Paul, he has brought through players who have surprised me by how well they’ve done. I’ve saw them coming through underage and at times you were maybe questioning whether they’d make it to senior level, but now they’re taking their place in a county championship final and in Ulster. Paul seems to get that bit extra out of boys you maybe didn’t expect it from.
“Looking at the success they’ve had this year, I feel justified in my decision.”