GAA Football

Burren stand in the way of magnificent seven for Kilcoo in Down senior football championship final

Conor Laverty will lead the Kilcoo attack in tomorrow's Down Senior Football Championship final in Newry. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.
Andy Watters

Down Senior Football Championship final: Kilcoo v Burren (Sunday, Pairc Esler, 4pm)

THESE Mourne county giants have collided in Down football’s showpiece three times in the past five years and the Magpies have led the cheers every time.

Disappointed Burren men have had to stand with their heads bowed as Kilcoo skippers raised the Frank O’Hare Cup in 2013, 2014 and last year by winning margins of 0-2, 0-13 and 0-2 again.

Kilcoo have had the upperhand in modern times and they can also make history tomorrow if they extend their Championship-winning run to seven on-the-trot, thereby breaking the record set by Burren between 1983 and 1988.

But history is for after the final whistle and it will count for very little when the ball gets thrown in at Pairc Esler and two sides who know each other very well go at it.

Kilcoo are without the injured defenders Darragh O’Hanlon and Aidan (Chock) Branagan, midfielder Aaron Morgan and forward Dylan Ward, the man of the match in last year’s final, who broke his collarbone in a league game a fortnight ago.

Meanwhile, Paddy O’Rourke’s Burren have fewer injury issues. Gerard McGovern will miss out but Shane McArdle and Shay McGovern could feature after overcoming injuries while Donal O’Hare, who had been out for three months before the semi-final win over Mayobridge, is also fully fit.

Burren had gone in at half-time in that semi-final trailing by three points but their opponents Mayobridge were overrun in the early stages of the second half and they conceded 4-6 without reply in 18 minutes as the St Mary’s side ran out comfortable winners, 5-12 to 2-11.

Half-time substitute Eamonn Toner scored two of the Burren goals while emerging young corner-forward Liam Kerr and Declan Rooney got the others.

The following day, Kilcoo recovered from a slow start to overhaul Warrenpoint’s Cumann Peadar Naofa. Paul McIver’s men conceded an early goal but led 0-8 to 1-3 at the halfway stage and Ceilum Doherty’s second-half goal sealed a 1-13 to 2-6 victory.

Goalkeeper Niall Kane sent over five points for the winners and he marshals a very tight Kilcoo defence which, as ever, is dominated by the determined Branagan brothers.

Donal O’Hare, a consistently excellent free-taker, can expect to have Niall Branagan for company and it looks likely that Daryl Branagan will pick up Shay McArdle with Aaron Branagan tracking the runs of Kerr. After his performance against Mayobridge in the semi-final Eamonn Toner will also be pushing for a start in the Burren forward line tomorrow.

At the other end of the field, Kilcoo are likely to continue with Jerome Johnston and the evergreen Conor Laverty as their inside forwards. Burren could dispatch Kevin McKernan – who has been used exclusively at full-back all season – to pick up Laverty with Ardan McAvoy (son of Ulster Council secretary Brian) tracking Johnston.

In the middle of the field, Burren pair Ryan Trainor and Declan Rooney will be up against Ryan Johnston (who has been carrying an injury but is expected to start) and Paul Greenan.

With Aaron Morgan out, Greenan is likely to hold the middle for the Magpies and do the spadework for Johnston and Paul Devlin to get on the ball and bring Kilcoo’s potent forwards into the game.

There has only been a kick of the ball in it in two of the three finals between these clubs and tomorrow’s decider should be another nip-and-tuck affair at Pairc Esler.

Last year Kilcoo trailed by a point at the interval but their finishing power and fitness – and Burren’s wayward passing – meant they dominated the second period.

Discipline will be key tomorrow and Kilcoo, who have been there and done it, get the nod to edge it and set a new benchmark in Down in the process.

Paths to the final

Kilcoo 1-13 CPN Warrenpoint 2-6

Kilcoo 2-14 RGU Downpatrick 0-10

Kilcoo 2-14 Castlewellan 0-12

Kilcoo 2-9 Bryansford 0-9

Burren 5-12 Mayobridge 2-11

Burren 0-11 Castlewellan 0-7

Burren 1-17 Clonduff 0-11

Burren 1-11 Loughinisland 0-11

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