Gilligan sees room for improvement as Kilcoo sweep past Ramor

Kilcoo's Ryan McEvoy is put under pressure from Gareth Mannion of Ramor United during the AIB Ulster Club SFC quarter-final at Kingspan Breffni Picture: Inpho

Ulster Club Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Ramor United 1-8 Kilcoo 3-13

KILCOO assistant manager Conleith Gilligan insists his side will have to improve if they are to get past Glenn/Scotstown in the Ulster Club Championship semi-final.

The 2019 Ulster champions swept aside the challenge of Cavan’s Ramor United in a chilly Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday night. A goal in each half from the superb Jerome Johnston and another from the clinical Celium Doherty helped the Down champions to a comfortable 11-point win.

It was a measured performance but when the Kilcoo shifted through the gears the Cavan champions didn’t know what hit them and despite their early goal, Ramor missed too many first half chances to be able to trouble a Kilcoo side that cruised to the finish line.

“There was definitely some nice passages of play and look, we were able to play the game at our own pace and as the competition goes on that won’t be allowed to happen, the opposition will get better as the thing goes on,” said Gilligan.

“We didn’t need to be the best in the country tonight we just needed to be better than Ramor and I think we were and it just gets us to another rung in the ladder.

“It is going to need to be a massive lift in standard and we will have to improve again if we are going to be at that level.”

Ramor trailed by four points at half-time and by then they had played their best football of the evening. Sean McEvoy’s fifth minute goal displayed a vulnerability to Kilcoo’s defence, as he showed Aaron Branagan, Niall Branagan and Michael Rooney a clear pair of heels. But it was more of a blip than a systemic failure because the Kilcoo defence tightened up thereafter with Niall Branagan and Ryan McEvoy excelling.

Anthony Morgan, Doherty and Jerome Johnston had registered points before the latter bagged his opening goal with Eugene Branagan delivering the pass and Johnston’s burst of pace taking him beyond Ben Smith, leaving only keeper Liam Brady to beat.

Shealan Johnston, Ryan McEvoy (free) and Jerome tagged on scores and by the first water-break Kilcoo were 1-6 to 1-1 ahead.

Kilcoo failed to score in the second quarter at all, while McEvoy tagged on a point for Ramor but the Magpies assistant boss wasn’t too concerned.

“We got a lot of possession but we just didn't make it tell on the scoreboard,” said Gilligan.

“But once we got our legs moving, up to the first water break we did very well. It was just that second quarter where we were on top but we didn't take enough chances that would have put the game to bed and we allowed Ramor to live in the game right up to half-time.

“We didn’t score again for the rest of that half, we had chances to score, we had goal chances to put ourselves out of reach and we didn’t do that and in fairness to Ramor they clung in and got another point and then they were only four down at half-time.

“They had the breeze and they were into the scoring goals in the second half so they would have been probably reasonably happy with that.”

Dylan Ward dragged his shot narrowly wide, for what could have been a great goal but with 54 minutes gone, Doherty had ball in the net. By that stage Ramor’s James Brady, McEvoy and Cathal Maguire had closed the gap while Paul Devlin’s free-taking and points from Jerome Johnston and Eugene Branagan kept the Kilcoo scoreboard ticking over.

Conor Laverty’s movement up front dragged Ramor’s defenders everywhere he wanted to leave space for Kilcoo to attack at speed and in numbers, which led to Doherty finishing into the net.

The Down champions led 2-11 to 1-5 at the second water-break and there was no way back for the Cavan men.

Instead, the Magpies rammed home their authority with Doherty and Ward grabbing points before Jerome Johnston got the finishing touch into the net for his second goal following a stunning sweeping move.

As in 2019, Kilcoo were playing with more freedom than they find within the Down championship and substitutes such as Chrissy Rooney and Tiernan Fettes impressed.

“In your own county you are playing teams three or four times in a season and the familiarity breeds that bit of contempt, so they are different games and there is always a bit more riding on it. In Ulster it opens out and there is a wee bit more football played because people just don’t know each other,” said Gilligan.

“The semi-final is where we wanted to be and we just have to knuckle down and get ready to go at it in another two weeks and see where it takes us.”

Ramor United: L Brady; D Barkey, B O’Connell, E Somerville; A O’Connell, J Brady, M Magee; L Caffrey, E Maguire; B Smith, S Cadden, C Maguire (0-1); J Brady (0-2, 0-1 m, 0-1 free), A Cole, S McEvoy (1-4, 0-1 free).

Subs used: G Mannion for C Maguire (42’), K Maguire for Caffrey (42), P McNamee (0-1) for Smith (49), J Bradley for Cadden (53), Lorcan Lynch for A O’Donnell (55)

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

Subs used: Aidan Branagan for Morgan (51), T Fettes for R Johnston (51), C Rooney for Aaron Branagan (55), M Hynes for M Rooney (55), J Clarke for J Johnston (58’).

Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh).

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