GAA Football

Kilcoo come good to take Down crown again at expense of Carryduff

The Kilcoo players and management celebrate after last night's Down final victory over Carryduff at Pairc Esler. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran at Pairc Esler

Morgan Fuels Down SFC final: Eoghan Rua, Kilcoo 0-16 Carryduff 0-9

KILCOO cantered to an eighth Down title in nine years with a seven point victory over Carryduff in Newry last night – their only frustration now that they won’t get the opportunity to defend their Ulster title.

The Magpies were 1/10 favourites going into this clash against DJ Morgan’s up-and-coming side, whose three county U21 titles in-a-row from 2017-2019 tell you why they are regarded as a coming force in Down.

Their time could yet come at senior level, and this unexpected run to the final will only have accelerated that development, but there was a sense that only complacency could beat Kilcoo last night.

Without one of their traditional foes – Burren, Clonduff, Warrenpoint in recent times – in the opposite corner, how would they react? That question was answered emphatically, though it took a while.

A difficult task was made all the tougher for Carryduff when Down player James Guinness wasn’t named in the starting 15, but there was no sign of stage fright on their big night as they set about pressing the Magpies hard, trying to draw mistakes.

And by the first water break it was 0-3 apiece after Daniel Guinness had put Carryduff ahead following a pair of frees from Ronan Beatty.

However, Kilcoo’s third point proved an early warning sign as they patiently waited for a hole to appear in a packed Carryduff defence, Conor Laverty and Aidan Branagan eventually combining for Eugene Branagan to finish the move.

The first real test of Carryduff’s character came when they went two behind three minutes before the break, a Paul Devlin free and Jerome Johnston’s point drawing chants of ‘Up the Magpies’ from the stand as the reigning Ulster kingpins looked ready to stretch their legs.

But Carryduff came back strongly and could have taken the lead on the half hour when Beatty ran onto a Josh Connery fist pass. Beatty advanced on Niall Kane, attempting to side-step the Kilcoo ’keeper but with the space narrowing he fired his shot over the bar instead of rippling the net.

A goal at that point could have been huge.

Instead, it was the Magpies who started to turn the screw, the quicksilver Shealan Johnston fisting over on the run before Devlin slotted between the posts for his second of the night to make it 0-7 to 0-4 at the break.

And Mickey Moran’s men were relentless after half-time, drawing the energy from Carryduff legs as their slick running game kicked into gear. Ryan Johnston and Eugene Branagan extended the gap to five inside two minutes.

The non-stop energy of the excellent Eugene Branagan, a star of this latest championship campaign, was evident throughout the entire evening and you began to fear for Carryduff when he rounded off a move involving Devlin, Niall Branagan and Jerome Johnston.

In the space of three minutes Devlin, Ceilum Doherty and Ryan Johnston had effectively killed the game off, making it 0-15 to 0-7 with 15 to go.

There were only three more scores - two for Carryduff, one for Kilcoo - as the game petered out, the Magpies’ coronation rubber-stamped in that third quarter burst.

For Carryduff, it was a momentous occasion. A first senior final appearance, and surely not the last but Moran’s men remain, by some distance, the benchmark in Down.

Once the celebrations had died down afterwards, assistant boss Conleith Gilligan admitted much of the week had been spent preparing for a step into the unknown against an opponent they had rarely faced.

“It felt very similar to most championship games. Carryduff brought a lot of noise and a lot of colour to it and for long periods they were in the game really well. Probably their inexperience cost them a wee bit,” said the Ballinderry man.

“Up to the first water break we were bit edgy but then we got a wee grip coming up to half-time. Probably half-time came too early for us, we’d just started to kick on, but in the second half - right from the throw-in - we kicked five scores without missing and that set us up.

“We did a lot of work this week on Carryduff; the players wouldn’t have played much against them so we had to just make sure we had every player covered, to get the match-ups right and just to try and make sure there was no complacency.

“To be fair to the boys, they applied themselves really well.”

The Frank O’Hare Cup made its way back to the village late last night, but there will be no repeat of their Ulster heroics from a year ago. And Gilligan admitted the lack of a provincial challenge to look forward to was “disappointing”.

“Players in all counties who win a championship, it’s brilliant in itself but it’s always a stepping stone to something bigger.

“It’s something the boys would love to get a chance at but, in the year that’s in it, for a long time we thought there’d be no football at all so anything was welcomed.

“That’s for somebody else. We just knew there was going to be a championship, we did our best to win that and whatever happens elsewhere will take care of itself.”

Kilcoo: N Kane; Aaron Branagan, R McEvoy (0-2, frees); N McEvoy, D Branagan; C Doherty (0-1), E Branagan (0-3); Aidan Branagan, D Ward (0-1); S Johnston (0-1), J Johnston (0-1), P Devlin (0-4, 0-2 frees); R Johnston (0-3), C Laverty. Subs: D O’Hanlon for R Johnston (53), J Clarke for S Johnston (56), P Greenan for Aidan Branagan (58), M Rooney for E Branagan (61), M Devlin for Laverty (63)

Yellow cards: Aaron Branagan (14), R Johnston (15), Aidan Branagan (33)

Carryduff: M Hynes; G Henderson, C Cassidy, L Toal; A O’Brien; M McGrath, J McGeough (0-1, free), D Guinness (0-1); J Connery, J McFlynn; J Tunney, O McCabe; R Anderson, R Beatty (0-7, 0-4 frees), J Henry. Subs: P Loughran for Tunney (49), C Tierney for McFlynn (49), S Reilly for Anderson (51), M Lawson for Henry (55), R Lawlor for O’Brien (61)

Yellow card: R Anderson (15)

Referee: C Reynolds (Rostrevor)

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