'Shorty' recalls Burren glory days as Kilcoo close in on record six in-a-row
KILCOO was a forgotten outpost in the Mournes when Burren reigned supreme in Down during the 1980s.
Half-a-century after their last senior success, the Magpies had fallen on hard times and were living hand-to-mouth in junior football as Burren swept all before them in the county, compiling a record-breaking six in-a-row championship run between 1983 and 1988 that paved the way for five Ulster titles and All-Ireland crowns in 1986 and 1988.
Three decades on there has been a changing of the guard and now Kilcoo are the superpowers in Down.
In 2015, the Eoghan Rua outfit overtook Burren’s record of 13 county titles and they will equal the St Mary’s club’s six in-a-row if they beat them in tomorrow’s final.
The breakthrough year for this Kilcoo side came in 2009 when a 72-year famine came to an end after victory over Loughinisland. Years earlier, Burren’s breakthrough arrived in 1981 when scraping past Saval ended a 25-year drought for the St Mary’s outfit.
With talismanic forward John ‘Shorty’ Treanor leading the way up front, the emergence of a talented crop of youngsters including Paddy O’Rourke, Tommy McGovern and Brendy McGovern that allowed Burren to dominate the scene from 1983 onwards.
The team responded to the innovative training methods of Belfast native Jackie McManus and even when McManus handed over the reins to Ray Morgan in 1984, the operation didn’t skip a beat. When the going got tough, Burren always managed to find an extra gear and the trophies kept coming.
“We played Loughinisland a couple of times in that six in-a-row run,” Treanor recalled.
“They were a good side then. We had three replays and in two of the games they were beating us by 10 points at half-time, but we came back and got a draw in both games and then beat them in extra-time. We went on the win an All-Ireland one of those years.
“When you get on a run like that you don’t fear going behind, you always think you’re good enough to come back and win and that’s probably what happened to us then. We never thought we were going to get beat at any stage
“Whenever teams thought they had us beat, that was when we were at our most dangerous. “Sometimes you need the challenge, you need somebody to put it up to you and you’d be thinking ‘Hold on, we’re going to get put out here…’”
Kilcoo haven’t been able to match Burren’s success outside the Down borders, but they have been just as dominant within the county. Burren were well beaten in the 2013 and 2014 finals and neither Castlewellan, managed by Treanor, nor Clonduff have really pushed them in the deciders since.
“All due respect to Kilcoo, they’re going for six in-a-row and they’re only into senior football maybe 15 years so they’ve done well, they’ve done awful well,” said Treanor.
“We wouldn’t have played them back in our day, they were probably playing third division football then and you have to hand it to them the way they have built up over the last 10 or 15 years.
“They have good players coming through and they leave no stone unturned – they do whatever they have to win games and that’s what it’s all about. Everybody else has to get up to that bar to meet them.”
How would the Burren of the 1980s fared against the current Magpies side? Treanor dodges that question diplomatically.
“It’s very hard to compare teams from my era to now,” he said.
“Football has changed, in our day it was more attacking at all times and now it’s very defensive. When we played it was 15 against 15, you had to mark your own man and if you got the better of him on the day that was it. Nowadays you have to get past three men if you’re playing in the forward line.”
It’s not man-v-man in the Marshes any more, far from it. Strategic defensive stitching on both sides will have to be unpicked tomorrow and if Kilcoo get their noses in front, Burren fans could be in for a long afternoon and it’ll be a bitter pill for them to swallow if Kilcoo equal their club’s six in-a-row.
Then again, records are made to be broken - Burren overtook Bryansford’s long-standing five-a-row mark when they beat Loughinisland in 1988 and Bryansford’s five had trumped Kilcoo’s four in-a-row between 1925 and 1928.
History and records have their place, but Treanor doesn’t think the Burren players – including his son Ryan - will be too concerned with either when they take the field tomorrow.
“It’ll be tough for the older people looking on if Kilcoo win,” he said.
“But a lot of the players now weren’t even born when we were playing and the modern players don’t look at history too much – they just listen to their parents and they’re probably sick listening to them about this one and that one.
“My son is sick listening to: ‘Your da wouldn’t have done this’ and ‘your da wouldn’t have done that’. I never mention it to him because you can see the eyes rolling in his head if we’re somewhere and somebody says to him: ‘Ah Jesus, your da was some player’. He’s thinking: ‘Och, here we go again, would you ever shut up…’”
Whatever happens tomorrow, the future does look bright for Burren who feature in both finals at Pairc Esler. Their youngsters – managed by Treanor and Crossmaglen native Anthony Campbell - will take on Clonduff in the minor decider.
“I can see the club getting back to where it was,” said ‘Shorty’.
“We had a good minor team last year, we won Ulster and it would be nice to win tomorrow and give the seniors a bit of a lift.”
Burren will start as underdogs when the ball is thrown-in at 3pm, but Treanor isn’t ruling out an upset.
“Hopefully they can stand up on the day,” he says.
“They have a good chance. Kilcoo is hot favourites with the bookies, but the bookies can get it wrong too.”