GAA Football

Kilcoo see off Ballyboden to reach All-Ireland showdown against three in-a-row chasing Corofin

Kilcoo's Ryan Johnston and Ballybodan's Darragh Nelson in action during the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championship Semi-Final's between Kilcoo and Ballybodan at Breffni Pairc Cavan. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship semi-final: Kilcoo (Ulster) 2-8 Ballyboden St Enda's (Leinster) 0-11

From Andy Watters at Kingspan Breffni

THERE were some nervous moments at the death but it would have been a travesty if Kilcoo had been denied their place in the All-Ireland final by a late Ballyboden rally.

Thanks to goals from Ryan Johnston and Daryl Branagan, the Down and Ulster champions went into stoppage time three points ahead and the four minutes had elapsed as the 13 Magpies – minus inspirational veteran Conor Laverty and Ryan McEvoy – crowded around their goalmouth.

A free dropped in. Hands clawed at the ball, deflecting it this way and that before it ended up in the hands of the much-vaunted Colm Basquel. He smashed in a shot but it swerved away from the posts and into a night sky that seconds later was filled by screams of delight and the chant of ‘UTM, UTM…' (up the Magpies) from an ecstatic community.

Kilcoo ae on their way to Croke Park and deservedly so. The Magpies were the better side over an hour in which Mickey Moran's gameplan was carried out to perfection by the men in black and white who, as usual, threw all they had into a performance that was a step above what they'd produced in the Ulster final.

They imposed themselves on Ballyboden, hunting and harrying the Dubliners to win the ball and then creating scores with pace and skill.

Is there another level in them for the final against three in-a-row chasing Corofin?

“That's the question,” said delighted assistant-manager Conleith Gilligan afterwards.

“There were (a few nervous moments).

“When the game goes down to the minimum you are trying to protect yourself from conceding the sucker punch but I thought we controlled periods of the game.

“A strong breeze picked up after half-time and we didn't have the advantage of it in the first half. It left it very difficult to get the ball out, especially with their big, heavy press. Some teams have faulted against that but we stood up and we were very strong against it.”

Meanwhile, 'Boden manager Anthony Rainbow was left to rue some poor shooting by his side who were made to look very ordinary at times by the Down champions.

“We left a lot out there in terms of our scoring efficiency,” he said.

“I'm very proud of the players in terms of what they put in today and the whole year. They've worked extremely hard for me and my management team and have done extremely well.

“A couple of things didn't go our way in the last couple of minutes. A few frees that we'd normally put over we didn't put over. A few shots that we'd normally put over, we didn't get. We needed that rub of the green and we didn't get it today.”

If the Dublin champions needed the rub of the green, Kilcoo made their own luck on Saturday.

A Paul Devlin free had given them an early lead but the Dubliners shaded the possession stakes in the early stages. Eye-catching scores from Conal Keaney and Ryan Basquel were highlights but Ryan McEvoy and Devlin cancelled both out to leave it 0-3 apiece at the end of the first quarter.

Ballyboden played with four forwards and Kilcoo – without a full-time sweeper – matched them man-to-man, concentrated on restricting the ball coming in to them and gradually took control.

Ryan Johnston's goal came after a turnover on the left wing. Dylan Ward, Aidan Branagan and the inevitable Laverty were all involved and Branagan's handpass played in Ryan Johnston who had timed his run brilliantly through the middle. He took the ball and smashed it past Darragh Gogan.

Colm Basquel pulled a point back but ‘Boden were already looking rattled and Kilcoo knew it. They changed tactics and only Laverty was left in the opposition half as the Dubliners looked for a way back into the game.

Even he got back as 'Boden dallied around midfield and again the ball was turned over and Johnston's run created space for his brother Jerome to beat his man and win a free. Ryan McEvoy stroked it over and Aaron Morgan added another as Kilcoo moved four points ahead.

Frees from Colm and Ryan Basquel kept the Dubs in touch but manager Rainbow would have been delighted to hear the half-time whistle.

The second half was intense. Kieran Kennedy's point left one in it but 'Boden could not get back on terms and Kilcoo soaked up pressure and hit them hard on the break.

Paul Devlin – having a great game around midfield – edged Kilcoo two ahead again. The tackling was ferocious but Kilcoo stood their ground and Laverty's turnover on the right touchline set up the attack that saw Ward break through on the left. The Kilcoo fans groaned as his fisted effort bounced off the post but Daryl Branagan snapped up the rebound and drilled the ball into the net.

That left Kilcoo 2-6 to 0-7 ahead and when Dublin star Macauley – who had been reduced to breaking the ball down in midfield – was black-carded for a pull down on Shealan Johnston it looked like Kilcoo could win comfortably.

But 'Boden weren't finished yet and three frees from the Basquel brothers cut the gap to two points. Kilcoo were under the pump but then Laverty relieved the siege by winning a kick-out and Justin Clarke sent fellow youngster Shealan Johnston away for an excellent score.

At the other end, Warren Egan pulled a point back and even though Ryan Basquel missed two glorious chances to level it, Ballyboden corralled Kilcoo in their own half of the field.

It was nail-biting stuff and Laverty – always in the thick of the action – got back into defence, demanded the ball and pushed his team forward. Devlin was involved too and young Ryan McEvoy joined the attack and kicked a superb point on the run to leave it 2-8 0-11.

Four minutes of additional time were added and they were up when ‘Boden won the kick-out. Desperate lunges from Laverty and Ryan McEvoy stopped their attack and both were black-carded.

The 13 men crowded the square, the ball dropped in, the shot flashed wide… Kilcoo are in the All-Ireland final.

Ballyboden: D Gogan; B Dwan, S Clayton, C Flaherty; K Kennedy, R McDaid, B Bobbett; MD Macauley, D O'Mahoney; D O'Reilly, C Basquel, A Flood; R McGarry, R Basquel, C Keaney

Subs: A Waters for B Bobbett (36), T Hayes for McGarry (38), W Egan for Flood (47), S O Maidin for D O'Reilly (53)

Yellow cards: D O'Reilly (20), A Flood (40), S O Maidin (60)

Black cards: A Waters replaced by D Nelson (40), MD Macauley replaced by J Holland (52)

Kilcoo: M McCourt; N Branagan, R McEvoy (0-3, 0-2 frees), N McEvoy; E Branagan, Aaron Branagan, D Branagan (1-0); A Morgan (0-1), Aidan Branagan; D Ward, P Devlin (0-3, 0-2 frees), R Johnston (1-0); S Johnston (0-1), J Johnston, C Laverty

Subs: M Rooney for A Morgan (HT), F McGreevy for Ward (63)

Black cards: D Branagan replaced by J Clarke (54), Laverty replaced by Anthony Morgan (65), R McEvoy replaced by P Greenan (65)

Referee: D O'Mahoney (Tipperary)

Attendance: 4,746

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