Dylan Ward goal helps Kilcoo bury memories of Burren heartache to clinch another Down title

Conor Laverty and Aidan Branagan hold aloft the Frank O'Hare Cup after yesterday's Down SFC final victory over Warrenpoint. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Conor Laverty and Aidan Branagan hold aloft the Frank O'Hare Cup after yesterday's Down SFC final victory over Warrenpoint. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship final: Eoghan Rua, Kilcoo 1-12 St Peter’s, Warrenpoint 0-14

KILCOO returned to the throne with the kind of dogged display that has become their hallmark, staring adversity in the face before somehow finding a way to get out of dodge intact.

They did it in their replayed quarter-final win over defending champions Burren, and against Clonduff in the last four, hitting back on both occasions to edge across the line.

Yesterday it was Warrenpoint who poked the bear and came off worse for wear, the St Peter’s seizing the momentum heading towards the straight only to be caught with a sucker punch from which they wouldn’t recover – although they had their chances.

This time it was Dylan Ward who gave Kilcoo the nudge when they needed it most, bounding onto a pass from Conor Laverty before producing the most impudent of finishes as he dinked over Gary McMahon.

Yet two minutes later Ross McGarry’s diving fisted effort drifted agonisingly wide of the post with the goal seemingly at his mercy.

The crowd inside Pairc Esler drew its breath in unison as Warrenpoint let Kilcoo off the hook. As so many have learned to their cost through the years, you just can’t do that.

Another half chance came as the ’Point trailed by two three minutes into the four added, impressive sub Anton Magill finding some space on the edge of the square and rifling his shot goalwards, only for Ryan Johnston to stick out a hand and deflect it over the bar.

A point wasn’t enough for the ’Point, and the Kilcoo crowd were soon swarming the field when referee Adrian Sharvin signalled the end to a pulsating finale.

Those scenes of celebration at the end were in stark contrast to the impeccably observed minute’s silence before throw-in as Down gaels paid their respects to former player and manager Eamonn Burns, who passed away suddenly last Wednesday.

He and his 1994 All-Ireland winning team-mates were due to be presented at half-time yesterday. Instead the former Down stars were warmly applauded on to the field beforehand, led by Eamonn Burns’s two sons, Cathal and Thomas.

Once under way, the game itself struggled to rise above the sombre atnosphere, with both teams retreating behind the ball, reluctant to leave any gaps, leading to a fairly sedate, anxious first half of football.

Kilcoo managed just one point from play in that 30 minutes, and it came with the final kick of the half as Paul Devlin found Jerome Johnston, who popped off to the unlikely figure of Aidan Branagan bounding towards the square.

After a couple of strides it seemed to dawn on the veteran defender exactly where he was and he opted to fist over the bar instead of going for glory.

With the ’Point giving away some cheap frees, though their cause wasn’t always aided by the man in the middle, Kilcoo went in 0-6 to 0-5 ahead.

But there were warning signs. The pace of the ’Point had opened gaps on the few times they went for the jugular during the first half.

Ryan Mallon and Ruairi McCormack both burst forward to slot over scores, while the clever movement of McGarry was causing bother for Niall Branagan any time the ball went in.

After the break Kilcoo – who lost Daryl Branagan to a black card in the 35th minute - moved Aidan Branagan out around the middle to close down the influential Mallon, and he was barely involved thereafter.

Bizarrely, Aidan Branagan soon found himself clean through again, ghosting into space to receive a Jerome Johnston pass. This time he did go for goal, but McMahon was out smartly to block his effort.

There was very little between the teams heading towards the final 10 but when Magill and then John Boyle sent over scores to put Warrenpoint 0-10 to 0-9 ahead, their dander was up. Could their 66-year wait for a senior title be over?

But then came the two goal chances that would ultimately decide the game – Ward took his and McGarry didn’t. Those are the margins at this level, and this is why Kilcoo have become serial winners.

Experience told you Kilcoo just wouldn’t let it slip, even as Warrenpoint closed the gap to one again, but once again it was the Magpies who crossed the finish line first.

Kilcoo: M McCourt (0-1, free); N Branagan, Aidan Branagan (0-1); N McEvoy; Aaron Branagan, D Branagan, M Rooney; R McEvoy (0-3, frees), D Ward (1-1); Anthony Morgan, P Devlin (0-4, 0-3 frees, 0-1 45), R Johnston (0-1), E Branagan; J Johnston (0-1), C Laverty. Subs: Aaron Morgan for E Branagan (52), T Fettes for Anthony Morgan (64)

Black card: D Branagan, replaced by S Johnston (35)

Yellow card: Aidan Branagan (4)

Warrenpoint: G McMahon; Cormac McCartan, R McAleenan; J Boyle (0-1); R Boyle, A Lynch, Ciaran McCartan; P Murdock, R Magee; R Mallon, D McAleenan (0-1, free), R McCormack (0-1), A Magee; A D’Arcy, R McGarry (0-9, 0-7 frees). Subs: A Magill (0-2) for R Boyle (45), J Grant for A Magee (48)

Yellow cards: R McAleenan (13), P Murdock (20), R Boyle (29), Cormac McCartan (58)

Referee: A Sharvin (Kilclief)