Kilcoo in good shape for shot at Ulster says Jerome Johnston

Jerome Johnston in the middle of the Kilcoo celebrations after Sunday's Down title win over Warrenpoint. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Jerome Johnston in the middle of the Kilcoo celebrations after Sunday's Down title win over Warrenpoint. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

KILCOO forward Jerome Johnston believes the Magpies are primed to finally make their mark on Ulster after regaining the Down championship on Sunday.

A year after Burren ended their bid for a seventh county title in-a-row, Mickey Moran’s men got their hands on the Frank O’Hare Cup once more with victory over Warrenpoint at Pairc Esler.

That sends Kilcoo into the quarter-final of the Ulster club championship on November 3, where they will meet the winners of Sunday’s Derry decider between Magherafelt and Glen.

Despite their domestic dominance, the Magpies have struggled to make their presence felt when it comes to the provincial competition, losing out to Crossmaglen and Slaughtneil in the 2012 and 2016 finals.

But Johnston believes that, having got the likes of brother Ryan and Aaron Morgan back from long-term injury, Kilcoo are heading into Ulster in better shape than ever.

“The thing with us is that we’ve never been beaten in Ulster with a full team, a full quota of players any year, and that’s the sickening thing,” said the 26-year-old.

“We’ve had stronger teams going out in Down championship games than we’ve had in Ulster, but we’ve a strong squad there now and a lot of young lads are coming through and getting plenty of game time.

“Who knows what can happen in three weeks’ time? We’ll get back to the basics and push on.”

Captain Conor Laverty spoke of the disappointment which followed that defeat to Burren last year, leading to the long road back to this stage under Mickey Moran.

And Johnston believes their replayed quarter-final victory over the defending champions last month was a watershed moment in this year’s campaign.

“It is pretty sweet.

“There was a lot of hurt from last year and, to be honest, the making of us was probably that second night against Burren. We knew the first night we had left it behind us and we talked about it afterwards and said it couldn’t be another year’s wait to try and get it back.

“A few things went our way and sometimes when you work that wee bit harder, the luck falls on your side. We built on from that.”

“Burren were great champions and are a great team,” he continued.

“It’s just unfortunate that there’s going to be a loser when we meet. Warrenpoint have been excellent this year and coming into it, you would have thought they were the favourites because they had played so well in all their championship games.

“But that’s where experience can help. You might not have the performance, but the experience can take you through.”

That experience was key in getting the Magpies over the line against Burren, then Clonduff in the semi-final, and they called upon it again to edge out a spirited Warrenpoint side on Sunday.

“I think the experience, even for the younger lads who played in the minor final last week, it gets them ready.

“The more championship finals you can play in, the more experience you have and experience probably is a big thing. But you still have to put a performance in.”

Although Kilcoo enjoyed Sunday night’s celebrations, Johnston was back in class at St Louis’s Grammar School in Kilkeel, where he teaches alongside Warrenpoint boss Niall McAleenan.

“We’ll shake hands back in the office,” he said after the game.

“It’s good banter. If you were to lose, you wouldn’t mind losing to them because they are such a good side. I think we only won by a point or two against them last year as well.

“They’re not far away and hopefully their day does come - just not at our expense.”