GAA Football

Kilcoo ease into Ulster final after comfortable win over Maghery

  Kilcoo's Paul Devlin gets away from Maghery's Eoin Scullion. Picture by Seamus Loughran

AIB Ulster Club SFC semi-final: Eoghan Rua, Kilcoo (Down) 4-13 Sean McDermott’s, Maghery (Armagh) 0-12

MAGHERY left Pairc Esler yesterday afternoon with plenty to consider, but top of the list must be a crazy three-minute spell before half-time that saw an already improbable task turn into mission impossible as Kilcoo coasted into the Ulster Club SFC final.

Second best for most of the first period, and playing into a stiff breeze, the Armagh champions might have been happy enough to go in at the break with the five-point deficit they faced as added time neared.

But Kilcoo had other ideas.

In the 29th minute, a crossfield ball found Ryan Johnston in acres of space and the Kilcoo speedster turned on the after-burners to leave David Lavery for dead before rifling high into the net.

And worse – much worse – was to come. An Aidan Forker free cut the Magpies’ lead to seven and when Kilcoo netminder Niall Kane was penalised for his short kick-out, Forker had the chance to make it 1-8 to 0-5.

Instead, the Armagh captain barged into the retreating Niall Branagan and a schemozzle ensued. Referee Joe McQuillan consulted with his umpires and linesman before showing Forker a red card.

Instead of a free, the ball was hopped and after Maghery regained possession they won another free. Surely now something would be salvaged from the wreckage of the past three minutes?

When Stephen Cusack took the ball in his hands and sent it wide of the left-hand post, an eerie silence momentarily descended upon Pairc Esler. Even the Kilcoo support didn’t bother voicing their derision.

This game was over, and everybody knew it.

Maghery rallied briefly after the break, reeling off four scores 

in-a-row at one stage, but the Magpies responded in clinical fashion, bagging another 2-5 before the game was finally – mercifully –brought to its conclusion.

A blood and thunder Armagh-Down clash was expected coming into this game, despite Kilcoo’s familiarity with the terrain at this time of year compared to the inexperience of a Maghery side who celebrated a first-ever county title last month.

A picture began to emerge early on as Kilcoo quickly hit their stride, with overlapping men in black offering support at all times as their speed and movement left Maghery chasing shadows.

Perhaps because they had to overcome a strong Scotstown outfit in the Ulster Club preliminary round, before emerging the right side of a bruising encounter with Michael Murphy’s Glenswilly in the last eight, the Magpies looked to be flying fit.

By the quarter-hour mark, they were 0-5 to 0-1 ahead with scores from Eugene Branagan, Doherty, Ryan Johnston and two from Paul Devlin easing them into the lead after Conor Mackle had put Maghery in front.

Although he didn’t end up getting on the scoreboard, Conor Laverty made a huge contribution to Kilcoo’s crucial quick start.

The former Down forward made life a misery for Eoin Scullion, getting out in front of his man at will and winning frees for the deadly Paul Devlin to convert. The fact Scullion was withdrawn just 25 minutes in is testament to Laverty’s influence.

Paul McIver’s men continued to hold the upper hand as the half wore on, Niall Kane’s quick, accurate kick-outs often the launchpad for Kilcoo attacks.

A Martin Devlin effort with his left foot put the Down kingpins five up before Johnston grabbed the first goal of the day, and those three minutes of madness ensued that all but ended Maghery’s dreams of reaching an Ulster final.

Their cause was hampered further just four minutes after half-time when Ceilum and Conor Laverty did their best Chuckle Brothers impression with a bit of ‘to me, to you’, exchanging fist passes before Doherty palmed to the back of an empty net.

Maghery responded with four points on-the-trot courtesy of two Stefan Forker frees, one from Seamus Forker and a Niall Forker effort – reducing the deficit to five –but it seemed inevitable that Kilcoo would come again.

And when they did, they showed no mercy.

The excellent Daryll Branagan displayed searing pace down the right before laying off for Aaron Morgan to fist over, and that was the first of 2-3 unanswered that the Magpies scored between the 47th and 53rd minutes.

Substitute JJ McLoughlin grabbed Kilcoo’s third goal of the day, stealing in at Johnny Montgomery’s back post to profit from good work by Gary McEvoy and livewire Doherty.

And the fourth was just two minutes away, sub Gary McEvoy getting in on the act again to shoot high towards the goal when finding himself in acres of space.

Montgomery got his fingertips to the ball but as it looped up it fell for Doherty to tap home. The ‘Dab’ celebration that followed was half-hearted at best, as the game had long taken on a training ground feel.

A Johnston score from distance was the pick of those in the last 10 minutes as the Magpies closed out the game, with thoughts already drifting towards a November 27 Ulster final showdown with Slaughtneil, conquerors of Killyclogher yesterday.

Of the four semi-finalists, it is the remaining two who have the real pedigree and experience at this level. 

In Newry and Armagh yesterday, it told.

When they met Crossmaglen in their first – and last – provincial decider four years ago Kilcoo had, just weeks previous, celebrated the club’s second Down championship success in 75 years.

Times have changed. Four more county titles have followed, but making that breakthrough in Ulster has eluded them.

Only on November 27 will Kilcoo really find out how far they have come.

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