Kilcoo come on strong in the end to banish Clonduff final hopes
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship semi-final: Kilcoo 0-12 Clonduff 2-3
IT was ugly as hell, but Kilcoo won’t care one bit as they moved into an eighth straight Down championship final at the expense of rivals Clonduff on Saturday night.
And, just as had been the case in their replayed quarter-final clash against reigning champions Burren seven days earlier, it was only when the prospect of defeat reared its head that the Magpies were finally jolted into life.
Clonduff managed just one point from play all night, courtesy of Barry O’Hagan’s classy early score, but sensed there were goals to be had against a side that conceded four times across their two games with Burren.
And when a second goal for Arthur McConville put the Yellas two points ahead in the 44th minute, you just began to wonder.
Again, though, Kilcoo didn’t flinch, holding their nerve to reel off five points without reply, taking the sting out of a game that had hung in the balance with three-quarters gone to set up a final showdown with Warrenpoint on October 13.
“It was a local derby, two teams who hadn’t even played in the league so, from a management point of view, we didn’t really know as much what to expect,” said selector Conleith Gilligan.
“The players probably knew a wee bit more than us, but it was difficult that way for planning. We had to fight back again, which has been the case in most games now, but once we got those one or two points, we controlled the ball a wee bit and did a wee bit better than we had in previous weeks.”
There was little to separate the pair in a fairly dismal first half. Well shackled by former county team-mate Darren O’Hagan, there would be no repeat of Conor Laverty’s heroics against Burren.
Yet, even with his influence limited, the Magpies should still have capitalised on the chances they created after dominating the Clonduff kick-outs, which proved all too predictable.
Instead they spurned five first half chances, with Paul Devlin struggling to find his range from frees while Jerome Johnston passed up a gilt-edged goal chance 19 minutes in.
Found in acres of space by Miceal Rooney, Johnston advanced on Neil Trainor’s goal and looked set to rattle the net, only for his rushed shot to screw high and handsome over the bar, just about squeezing between the posts for a point that put Kilcoo 0-4 to 0-2 ahead.
And it was all square six minutes later when a long ball into the square from Jayme Gribben spread panic among the Kilcoo ranks, resulting in Niall Branagan pulling Aidan Carr to the ground after Dylan Ward had fumbled the ball into his path. McConville took a long run up and emptied his shot down the middle.
Branagan, who had been shown a yellow card just four minutes earlier, could count himself lucky to remain on the field and Mickey Moran wasn’t about to risk being left with 14 men as he switched him for Anthony Morgan at half-time.
Early scores for Darryl Branagan and Devlin (free) got Kilcoo off to a decent start after the break, though they also kicked three wides inside the opening 10 minutes.
And when McConville bagged another goal, it looked as though those missed opportunities could come back to haunt them.
Again the Kilcoo defence didn’t cover itself in glory as the ball eventually found its way to Barry O’Hagan in the square following a scrappy period of play. Goalkeeper Martin McCourt was quickly out to stop O’Hagan getting his shot away but McConville managed to drag the ball free before tapping home from six feet out.
Unfortunately for Clonduff, that was as good as it got.
Kilcoo stepped it up and a Devlin free, followed by scores from Ryan McEvoy and substitute Morgan, put them back into the lead with seven minutes left.
And when Devlin buried a free, off the ground, from dead on the 45 metre line, it drew the biggest roar of the night – until roughly five seconds later when there was a tangle on the goal-line involving Arthur McConville, Trainor and Eugene Branagan.
The Kilcoo man looked to have come in high on the Clonduff ’keeper, but McConville left referee Ciaran Mooney with little choice but to show him the line after hitting out at Branagan.
What exactly Trainor was sent off for, nobody seemed to know, while Branagan was shown a yellow for his indiscretion.
Heading into added time, a goal would still have been enough for 13-man Clonduff to salvage a draw but, without their bear in the square, it never looked likely as the Magpies eased across the line, and back onto the stage they know so well.
Kilcoo: M McCourt; Aidan Branagan, Aaron Branagan; N McEvoy; N Branagan, D Branagan (0-2), M Rooney; D Ward (0-1), R McEvoy (0-2, frees); A Morgan, P Devlin (0-5 frees), R Johnston, E Branagan; J Johnston (0-1), C Laverty. Subs: Anthony Morgan (0-1) for N Branagan (HT), S Johnston for Aaron Morgan (45)
Yellow cards: N Branagan (21), D Branagan (33), E Branagan (60+1)
Clonduff: N Trainor; R Lively, D O’Hagan; P Lively; B Britton, M McPolin, J Gribben; P O’Hagan, S McConville, R Branagan; R Carr, A Carr (0-1, free), C Carr; A McConville (2-1, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free), B O’Hagan (0-1). Subs: J Boden for B O’Hagan (50), E Brown for P Lively (57)
Blood sub: L Brown for R Lively (2, reversed 8)
Yellow cards: J Boden (55), B Britton (56)
Red cards: A McConville (60+1), N Trainor (60+1)
Referee: C Mooney (Rostrevor)