Burren show champion spirit to bounce back and force Kilcoo into quarter-final replay

Jerome Johnston bursts forward during last night's drawn Down SFC quarter-final at Pairc Esler
Jerome Johnston bursts forward during last night's drawn Down SFC quarter-final at Pairc Esler Jerome Johnston bursts forward during last night's drawn Down SFC quarter-final at Pairc Esler

Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Burren 2-9 Kilcoo 1-12

THE last time anybody other than Kilcoo or Burren got their hands on the Frank O’Hare Cup, Derry were National League champions, Tyrone had laid claim to Sam for the third time in six years, and America had just elected Barack Obama president.

Much has changed since 2008, more than we could ever have imagined, but certain things stay just as they are – deaths, taxes and the duopoly that has controlled the Down championship for the past decade.

Last night, these familiar foes couldn’t be separated. Kilcoo had revenge for last year’s championship final defeat in the palm of their hands, three ahead with four minutes left.

But Burren – for whom Donal O’Hare bagged 2-4 - showed the spirit of champions by holding their nerve and battling back, substitute Ronan McGrath’s dramatic score with the last kick of the game ensuring these rivals would do it all again on Saturday.

Paddy O’Rourke beefed up his Burren side before throw-in with four changes, bringing in Eamon and Connor Toner as well as Malachai McAvoy and Shay McArdle as they set about imposing themselves on Kilcoo.

And in the early stages they were on top, coming back after Aaron Branagan’s classy opener to strike the first major blow of the night when O’Hare found the net five minutes in.

It came after Ryan Treanor won a break around the middle before spraying a high ball towards Liam Kerr. He managed to get his palm on the ball while falling, with O’Hare alert to the opportunity as he gathered possession and bounded into the danger zone.

Niall Kane in the Kilcoo goal got a foot to O’Hare’s low drive across the square, unfortunately for him sending the ball straight back out to the Down forward who made no mistake.

Scores from Treanor and Kerr put them 1-3 to 0-3 ahead after 13 minutes but Burren failed to score again for the rest of the half as Kilcoo slowly but surely assumed control.

With Conor Laverty and Sheelan Johnston roaming deep, black shirts seemed to be picking up every break, with the raiding runs of the brilliant Aaron Branagan in particular drawing fouls from Burren - meat and drink to Paul Devlin from anywhere around the 40.

In the 18th minute his free made it all square, but the remainder of the half was a stilted, scrappy affair, the Magpies picking up four yellow cards in the space of four minutes as any momentum sagged from the game before the break.

Kilcoo came flying out of the blocks in the second half when Eugene Branagan bursg through and rammed beyond Cathal Murdock with just one minute and 50 seconds gone, the superb Ryan McEvoy firing over minutes later to increase their lead.

Burren were struggling to find any kind of flow but still they kept coming back and, three down with 11 minutes left on the clock, they were handed a lifeline when referee Ronan Barry awarded a penalty after Shay McArdle found himself sandwiched between two Kilcoo bodies in the square.

O’Hare made no mistake – 2-5 to 1-8, all square. Game on.

Again the Magpies rallied, putting together their best phase of play of the night as they tagged on three unanswered scores in-a-row courtesy thanks to frees from Devlin and goalkeeper Kane, and a lovely effort with the outside of the boot from Ryan McEvoy.

When an O’Hare free came back off the upright two minutes from time, it looked as though it wasn’t to be Burren’s night. But they came again, a Ryan Cunningham score and an O’Hare free closing the gap, and when Kevin McKernan went tit-for-tat with McEvoy, there was only a point in it deep into added time.

It must have felt as though the Newry crowd was on top of the defending champions as they went in search of that last-gasp leveller, and McGrath showed nerves of steel to grant them another shot.

Burren: C Murdock; P Fegan, K McKernan (0-1), M McAvoy; M McKay E Toner (0-1), C McGovern, C Cox; C Toner, R Treanor (0-1); C Toner, S McArdle, C Foy; D Rooney, D O’Hare (2-4, 1-0, pen, 0-3 frees), L Kerr (0-1). Subs: R McGrath (0-1) for E Toner (47), P Poland for C Toner (53), D Magill for D Rooney (59)

Black card: R Cunningham (0-1) replaced M McEvoy (40)

Yellow cards: C Toner (30+2), M McKay (52)

Kilcoo: N Kane (0-1, free); Aidan Branagan, N Branagan, N McEvoy; D Branagan, M Rooney, Aaron Branagan (0-2); J McClean, R McEvoy (0-3, 0-1 free); D Ward (0-1), P Devlin (0-4, frees), S Johnston; E Branagan (1-0), J Johnston (0-1, free), C Laverty. Subs: C Rooney for S Johnston (47), A Morgan for J McClean (53),

Black card: E Branagan (60+4)

Yellow cards: Aaron Branagan (20), N McEvoy (22), J Johnston (24), E Branagan (24), J McClean (30+1)

Red card: E Branagan (60+4)

Referee: R Barry (Tullylish)