GAA Football

Kilcoo assistant Conleith Gilligan hails Conor Laverty role in Magpies win

Conor Laverty was Kilcoo's best player as they overcame defending champions Burren in Saturday night's Down SFC quarter-final replay. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

CONLEITH Gilligan knows a quality forward when he sees one, and the former Derry star was quick to praise Conor Laverty after Kilcoo’s replay victory over Burren on Saturday night.

The 34-year-old was central to everything good about the Magpies’ performance as they banished memories of last year’s Down championship final defeat by sending the defending champions tumbling out the exit door.

As well as sending over three points from play, Laverty – who will be part of Seamus McEnaney’s new-look Monaghan backroom team - scored Kilcoo’s killer second goal late on, just minutes after his clever pass found Anthony Morgan, who was fouled for a Paul Devlin-converted penalty.

And Kilcoo assistant boss Gilligan, who came up against Laverty at inter-county and club level during his own playing days, hailed the veteran’s vital impact.

“He’s been a great servant to Kilcoo football and this year the effort he has put in has been incredible,” said the Ballinderry man.

“For somebody with the commitments he has, working in Dublin, a very young family, taking two underage teams in Kilcoo the nights before training…

“He’s a great ambassador for Kilcoo football.”

That dramatic victory sends the Magpies into Saturday’s derby semi-final clash against Clonduff with their tails up. And, although two dogged encounters in the space of five days may take a toll on the legs, they were boosted by the return to championship action of Aaron Morgan and Ryan Johnston.

“It’ll be a massive game, and it’s good to get those boys back,” added Gilligan.

“With refixtures we haven’t played in the league yet so it’ll be the first time the teams have met. In terms of this season, there’s no history at all in that sense, it’s just a fresh challenge again.

“Obviously it’s not ideal preparation in terms of having the replay and playing in another week, but in some cases having that extra game might bring a lot of boys on.

“Aaron’s out 14 or 16 months there and Ryan, that’s the first ball he has kicked for Kilcoo this season in any competition, so even to get 20 minutes under the belt was very important for him.

“It’s good because it’s hard for those boys to be standing watching training - mentally as much as anything else. They’ve put in a huge amount of effort in their rehab and this was a bit of a reward.

“Unfortunately it was only a quarter-final, for all the good feeling. It’s still miles away from anything tangible.”

And yet Mickey Moran can surely take so many positives from the way his men finished the job, using all their experience to edge across the line at the death.

After all it was Burren who had snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat the previous Monday night, while Paddy O’Rourke’s men also looked in control midway through the second half on Saturday night.

“You’ll take that all day long,” said Gilligan.

“We’ve lost a few league games in similar circumstances and when the game gets tight like that, you want your team to dig in and pull out a performance.

“The momentum was all with Burren when the final whistle went [at the end of the drawn game]. They had equalised, they felt like the team who’d won, we felt like the team who’d lost so it was just about getting our heads back and resetting.”

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