Derrygonnelly left with the sickening feeling Kilcoo know too well
AIB Ulster Club SFC semi-final: Kilcoo 1-8 Derrygonnelly 0-9
AT a coaching course on Saturday, Conor Laverty told the listening coaches to ignore the old adage about taking your points and the goals will come.
“Everyone says take your points and the goals will come. No, if you can't get a goal take a point,” he told them.
In the Athletic Grounds yesterday, he lived his words and provided the telling moment that sent Kilcoo into their third Ulster final since 2012.
It wouldn’t be the first time he’s caught an opposition defence napping with a quick free. And while Derrygonnelly might have been confused by him taking it from where he was as referee Padraig Hughes called him forward 13 metres, it would have been cruel to chalk off the ingenuity.
He popped it straight into the run of Anthony Morgan, who cut down the middle and fed Aaron Branagan. He left hearts in mouths as he cut back into the traffic on his left foot rather than palming it home, but he managed to squeeze the shot through the bodies on the line.
On 38 minutes, Kilcoo badly needed it. They’d seen their three-point lead wiped out in Derrygonnelly’s most prolific spell of the game in the three minutes previous.
Two Garvan Jones frees and a Declan Cassidy point from play seemed to have finally put a rocket up the game, but the goal poured a bucket of water over the fuse before it had a chance.
Kilcoo were far from at their best but the knack of exercising the umpire on the green flag when they need to has been a welcome, and winning, habit.
“We’ve had games that were very much in the mix and we’ve got the goal at the right time to be able to push on,” said Magpies’ assistant Conleith Gilligan.
“It came today and it looked when we went four up that we’d be in control, but we didn’t kick on and it allowed Derrygonnelly back in.
“To be fair, as they had in a lot of games, we knew they would be strong towards the end. They’ve done that today again.
“For long periods we didn’t play the way we’d want to play, we didn’t perform the way we’d want to perform, but sometimes games go like that and you can’t dictate the terms.
“The way we expected Derrygonnelly to go, we knew it was going to be that kind of game. We just knew we had to grind it out and be there at the end, the semi-final was just one we had to take and thankfully towards the end we held on.”
Kilcoo know enough about missed chances to have empathy with Derrygonnelly.
The Fermanagh champions were largely the better side. Their physical advantage was one that they honed in on to great effect, dominating the kickouts from both ends and putting the Down men under sustained periods of pressure.
They owned a lot of the ball, especially in the second half, but they were left to regret their lack of success in front of goal. Nine scores from 24 shots tells nothing of their endeavours, but it tells why they didn’t win.
“I'm absolutely devastated,” said joint-manager Brendan Rasdale, whose emotion was writ large on his face and in his voice.
I imagine it is a game that we will all have regrets about for a long time. Maybe even more regrets than from 2017, I have to say.
“So yeah, my heart is on the floor, is all I can say. But I suppose if you are trying to be dispassionate about it, you have to say our lads found a very high level of performance. There are so many areas of our performance that clicked today.
“But it didn't quite all come together. To win against the likes of Kilcoo, absolutely everything has to go right for you on the day. And it obviously didn't.
“I can't dwell on [the wides] as a manager. It is a team of fifteen fellas. I manage forwards as well as backs.
And I suppose, we all have to lose as a full group.
“I can only praise them. We got a lot of things we wanted to do in that game. We got after their kickout, put the squeeze on that, closed them down, their key men and so on.
“I suppose it's inevitable that you focus on the negative aspects of our own performance but maybe it would be fairer to reflect on the clinical and positive aspects of Kilcoo's performance.”
It was a game that took an age to warm at all. Derrygonnelly started off patient and composed, landing the game’s first two scores but they were the only two they managed in the first half.
All could have been very different had it not been for another stunning Martin McCourt save, this time contorting his body to get a strong hand on Shane McGullion’s early shot.
By the 14th minute Kilcoo had the lead, 0-3 to 0-2, and the first half’s only other score came from Jerome Johnston in injury-time.
There was always the sense that if they’d lifted the heads that wee bit sooner, Johnston had the beating of Tiernan Daly. There were times when Kilcoo had the wind that the pair were one-on-one but they didn’t use the option.
Conor Laverty dropped deeper and dictated an awful lot of the terms, while Eugene Branagan found himself on a lot of ball for the winners.
But most of what they had, Derrygonnelly matched. Theirs was a disciplined and diligent display, lit up by the occasional burst from Shane McGullion or Eamon McHugh, whose job on Daryl Branagan was excellent.
Ryan Jones had a brilliant last 15 minutes as well as other sporadic moments, while Stephen McGullion was a big feature around the middle.
The goal came on 38 minutes and when Ryan McEvoy added the next score some six minutes later, you expected Kilcoo to pick the game off on the break.
Lee Jones’ second booking after getting needlessly into a tangle with Jerome Johnston might have killed Derrygonnelly, had Johnston not wrapped Ryan Jones with a high tackle less than 60 seconds later and earned his own short walk to the line.
The Fermanagh men were never beaten, keeping on coming at it. They got the gap down to a point in stoppage time, and thoughts started to linger on the misses, especially a Conall Jones free from out wide on the 13’ when they were four down.
Declan Cassidy got swallowed up on their last chance and the black and white shirts poured forward on the break, with Ryan Johnston getting a chance to stretch his legs to fist over the clinching score.
It will live long with Derrygonnelly, that they had it in their own hands and let it go. But Kilcoo know the feeling. They’re sick of the feeling. And that can count for a lot in Ulster finals.
Kilcoo: M McCourt; N Branagan, Aaron Branagan (1-0), N McEvoy; R McEvoy (0-2 frees); Anthony Morgan, Aidan Branagan, D Branagan (0-1); Aaron Morgan, D Ward; E Branagan (0-1), P Devlin (0-2 frees), R Johnston (0-1); J Johnston, C Laverty
Subs: J Clarke for Anthony Morgan (46), J McClean for Aaron Morgan (55), Shealan Johnston for McEvoy (57)
Yellow cards: Aaron Morgan (45), J Johnston (52, 53), Aidan Branagan (56)
Red card: J Johnston (53, second yellow)
Derrygonnelly: J Kelly; T Daly, M Jones; J Love (0-1); E McHugh, Shane McGullion, G McGinley (0-1); R Jones, Stephen McGullion (0-1); L Jones, C Jones (0-1 free), D Cassidy (0-1); G Jones (0-3, 0-2 frees), K Cassidy (0-1), G McGovern
Subs: G McKenna for G McGovern (42), R McHugh for K Cassidy (46), N Gallagher for G McGinley (55), A McKenna for E McHugh (63)
Yellow cards: L Jones (23, 52), Stephen McGullion (58)
Red card: L Jones (52, second yellow)
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh)