Can Warrenpoint do it twice? Seasiders take on defending champions Kilcoo in Down Championship semi-final
Down Senior Football Championship semi-final: Kilcoo Eoghan Rua v Cumann Pheadair Naofa (Sunday, Pairc Esler, 7.30pm)
CAN they do it twice? That’s the question facing Niall McAleenan’s Warrenpoint side and we’ll have the answer in tomorrow night’s mouth-watering headline bout at Pairc Esler.
The seasiders took the scalp of the reigning Down and Ulster champions in round two of this competition but Kilcoo have regrouped and come again seeking revenge and a place in another county final.
Across their last two championship meetings, there’s been a kick of the ball between these teams and they’ve managed one win apiece.
In last year’s county decider, the Magpies prevailed by a point and went all the way to the All-Ireland final but, in early August, it was Warrenpoint who edged it, again by the minimum as red mist descended on Pairc Esler after an unsatisfactory finish when the referee blew the final whistle after 31 minutes, making no allowance for a two-minute water break or injury-time.
Controversial or not, Warrenpoint won the game displaying the trademark energy and tenacity that has also seen them past Burren and Clonduff (a remarkable game finished 4-20 to 5-11). And they’re still only at the semi-final stage!
They will line-out with fine footballers all over the field and have plenty of pace in the team. John Boyle remains a hugely influential player for the St Peter’s club and is expected to be fully fit.
Meanwhile, Kilcoo have “several doubts” and will delay naming their team for as long as possible.
“The last game ended in controversy but we would have been disappointed with aspects of our performance,” said Paul Devlin, part of Mickey Moran’s Kilcoo management team.
“Losing it has refocussed the guys but we are under no illusions about how good Warrenpoint are.
“They are the main team in Down as far as we’re concerned. There was a kick of the ball between us last year in the county final and the same this year and I don’t see there being any more than a kick of the ball between us on Sunday night.”
Without a senior title since 1953, Warrenpoint are striving for a breakthrough and there’d be no better way to confirm their transition from contenders to champions than taking the scalp of the big dogs twice in the same season.
“They will be filled with belief and they will have their eyes on the county title and rightly so,” Devlin continued.
“They are a super footballing team, they play a lovely brand of football – very fluid in terms of how they defend and attack and they are all really comfortable on the ball. We have a big assignment on our hands.”
Kilcoo have welcomed Darragh O’Hanlon, Ceilum Laverty and Paul Greenan back into the fold after all three missed much of last season. They have been like three new signings for the team this year and the Magpies remain a superbly-fit, running team with a straightforward footballing ethos: every player leaves everything they have out on the pitch.
Their style is based on a short passing game. Scores come from a potent half-back line with everyone attacking and everyone tracking back to hunt for the ball.
They have the quality to convert half-chances into vital scores, the experience of winning important games and, of course, they are guided by master tactician Mickey Moran who is ably supported by Devlin and Conleith Gilligan.
Opponents have tried to match them but, as Kilcoo’s record of seven county titles in eight years proves, they have failed.
Warrenpoint came mighty close in last year’s final and created a goal chance that might have won it for them.
The chance was missed though and you have the feeling that, if a similar opportunity falls Kilcoo’s way tomorrow, the ball will end up in the back of the Warrenpoint net. It’ll be tight again, you shouldn’t rule out extra-time but the Magpies get the nod to hang on to their title.