Kilcoo forward Dylan Ward looking forward to Ulster Championship battle against Glenties
IT seems that not everyone in Kilcoo fits into the Mass-sheep-football stereotype. Dylan Ward, for example, admits he “knows nothing about sheep”.
“That’s them Branagans round the back of the loch,” he explains when asked the question at the Magpies' Mourne Mountains stronghold last week.
He’s referring to the five Branagan brothers – Aaron, Aidan, Niall, Daryl and Eugene – there, of course. The Branagans know about sheep and they know about football too and Ward might not know one end of a ewe from the other but he knows where the back of the net is.
It was the 22-year-old forward who scored the crucial goal in the Down championship final against Warrenpoint that regained the Frank O’Hare Cup for Kilcoo after Burren had ended their six in-a-row winning streak last year.
“I didn’t even see it go in to be honest,” said Ward with a grin.
“I heard the roar and I was just running away with my fist in the air. Here, once it left my boot I knew there was only one place for it – the back of the net! Everybody got a lift from it, it pushed us on and we got the win. Hopefully I’ll do it again on Sunday.”
Another goal or two in Sunday’s Ulster final against Donegal’s Glenties would come in very handy for Kilcoo. The Naomh Conaill men haven’t conceded a ‘major’ in Ulster and go into Sunday’s game having dealt comfortably with Castlerahan and Clontibret in the quarter and semi-finals respectively.
“They’re a good team, good on the break,” said Ward.
“I watched them against Clontibret, they have a lot of big players, good players, Donegal players and it will be good to play against some of them boys, I’ve never played against any of them before.”
He has played in an Ulster final before. Three years ago he came off the bench late in the game but couldn’t turn the tide and Derry’s Slaughtneil - managed by Mickey Moran who is now Kilcoo manager – took the title with a three-point win.
“I had been injured that year and I got a couple of minutes at the end but I wasn’t much use,” says Ward.
“It’s different this time. I felt like there was a lot of pressure on us the last time. Slaughtneil were the team to beat, they were the best about and I felt very pressured, people were telling us ‘this is a big, big game’.
“But this time both teams haven’t won it before and they have nothing to lose. You’re going out to play football so just enjoy yourself. I don’t feel much pressure, it’s more excitement.
“Playing football is all about enjoying it and when you are (enjoying it) you’re going to play well. I think we’re a lot more confident in ourselves as a team this year.
“We’ve been confident all year, the way we have trained together and all the boys are getting on together.”
Previous managers Jim McCorry and Paul McIvor both won county trebles with the Magpies but were unable to land a provincial title. New manager Moran and his backroom team have carried on their good work and clicked almost immediately with the players, according to Ward.
“Mickey, Conleith (Gilligan) and Paul (Devlin) are brilliant men,” he said.
“Their training, the way you can approach them… We are more of a team this year. If you’re out there you know the boys will have your back because we’re a lot tighter than we ever where. We’re in a good place.”
Moran and his management team took over a side that was still smarting from losing their Down title in 2018. After a record six on-the-trot, it was arch-enemies Burren who ended their run and Kilcoo began the year determined to regain their crown.
They refused to lose in the county final and his goal inspired Kilcoo to a one-point win. Against Magherafelt in the Ulster quarter-final it was Jerome Johnson’s turn to pop up with a ‘major’ and then Aaron Branagan obliged in a nip-and-tuck semi against Derrygonnelly.
“We don’t rely on one person,” Ward agreed.
“There’s always a different man making a run and trying to get there and it’s good to have everyone making the runs rather than one man who can be taken out.”
With Conor Laverty pulling the strings in attack and willing runners striving to make space and get on the end of his passes, Kilcoo won’t be far away on Sunday if they produce the performance they’re capable off.
“Looking forward to it, it’s an Ulster final and everyone wants to be there,” said Ward.
“It’s all about on the day, whoever gets it right is going to win and hopefully we can get over the line.
“You go out there playing, looking forward to getting out there in front of everybody and trying to win something for Kilcoo.”