‘A lot of the negative publicity has driven the lads behind the scenes’: Ray Cosgrove relishing Kilmacud-Glen rematch

Ray Cosgrove, an All-Ireland winner with Kilmacud Croke's in 2009, is excited about Sunday's semi-final date with Ulster champions Glen. Picture by Sportsfile

THERE was more than Christmas in the air as Ray Cosgrove drove through Stillorgan, having wrapped up the last bit of the festive shopping hours earlier.

“I’m on the Kilmacud Road now,” says the former Dublin sharpshooter, slightly muffled by the car’s hand-free, “I haven’t been up this neck of the woods in a few weeks, and there’s flags and bunting everywhere.

“It’s great to see the purple and gold all over…”

For the first time since 2009 - when Cosgrove scored the final point as Crossmaglen were toppled on St Patrick’s Day - the Andy Merrigan Cup has spent the winter in the Kilmacud clubroom.

However, with a rematch of the controversial 2023 All-Ireland decider against Glen providing the stiffest test of their mettle thus far, it could be shortened in Sunday’s semi-final as the Ulster champions go all out for revenge.

Victory over Naas at the start of December completed a hat-trick of Leinster crowns, Kilmacud enjoying an era of unprecedented success – one they are determined to capitalise on while the going is so good.

“There were some fairly barren years all the way through from around 1995 to 2009,” says Cosgrove, “they’re riding the crest of a wave at the moment, but things can turn full circle very quickly, and suddenly it’s a while before you get back to an All-Ireland club final.

“We know how difficult it is to do it, but when you have a crop of players as good as what we’ve got, you have to make hay. That’s the general consensus from the lads.

“They know they’ve got something special there at the minute.”

And yet they also know that, outside their own community, a fair few across Ireland would be happy to see Kilmacud’s wings clipped in Newry.

There is a combination of reasons, all relatively recent.

One is the sheer size and scale of the club, which has swelled in size even from Cosgrove’s day, now boasting over 140 teams and approaching 6,000 members.

Then there is Shane Walsh, the Galway Allstar’s switch to south Dublin from Kilkerrin-Clonberne in rural north Galway raising more than a few questions about the GAA’s transfer policy.

To top it off, the manner in which last year’s All-Ireland final finished off left a sour taste in the mouths of many – the presence of a 16th man on the field at the death prompting a fortnight-long saga that took some of the shine from Kilmacud’s triumph.

Conor Glass and Kilmacud's Luke Ward go toe-to-toe in last year's All-Ireland club SFC final. Picture by Mark Marlow

Cosgrove admits their success has been something of a double-edged sword. While the high profile helps peak the interest of kids in local schools struggling to choose between sports, it has brought “begrudgery” and heightened scrutiny in other areas.

That, though, can also become part of the cause, as Croke’s have shown this year.

“I certainly sense the bit of negativity with the way things happened over the last couple of years,” says Cosgrove.

“That can also drive and motivate lads as well, and I do believe a lot of the negative publicity has driven the lads behind the scenes. They mightn’t come out and say it publically, but it stands to reason they might feel they want to prove people wrong.

“In terms of Shane, we had lots of country lads on the teams I won championships with - Conor Deegan, Liam McBarron, the Mick Dillons of this world, captain in ‘95, Adrian Morrisey from Wexford… there’s a huge amount.

“But then Shane comes onboard and it takes on a life of its own, because he’s so high profile. We certainly never got that kind of attention. Even take the likes of Na Fianna back in the day, they had a large number of country representatives as well – the same as a lot of other clubs in Dublin too.

“The publicity hasn’t always been positive, and probably a certain amount of that comes with being successful – people want to have a cut at you. In fairness, I think a lot of that negative attention has galvinised the group.”

Sunday’s game carries a little bit more edge than most, however, the back-story sure to bring more eyes to Newry as Kilmacud and Glen renew acquaintances.

Neither has shot the lights out in reaching this stage but, with the likes of Walsh and Paul Mannion on the field, the potential for fireworks remains ever-present – with Cosgrove predicting there is much more yet to come from Kilmacud’s deadly duo.

“Both clubs have probably been timing their run up to this point. Now they’re on the home straight, they have to put the pedal to the metal and push on.

“But in terms of Shane and Paul, we’re looking at two players of a generation. The club will probably only look back in years to come and realise what we’ve got on our doorstep. Shane oozes class, two good feet, Paul is an unbelievable scorer, ball-winner, work-rate… they’re a treat to watch, they’re worth the entrance fee alone on any given day.

The Kilmacud players celebrate with the Andy Merrigan Cup after their 2023 All-Ireland final win. Picture by Mark Marlow

“When Shane initially came, there was a lot of neutrals would come just to see this fella in the flesh.

“And yet we still haven’t seen the best of the two of them. Paul being injured the last couple of years, I don’t think they’ve really got that cohesion together yet – we’ve seen it in glimpses where they have dovetailed, like against Eire Og, but not consistently this year.

“There’s plenty more to come.”