GAA Football

Young guns won't fear all-conquering Kilcoo says Clonduff coach Mark Copeland

Clonduff manager Ciaran McBride and coach Mark Copeland in conversation after the Yellas' championship opener against Rostrevor. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

AN influx of young talent ensures reigning county kingpins Kilcoo will hold no fear for their near neighbours when the two clubs collide on Sunday, according to Yellas coach Mark Copeland.

Clonduff still boast the experience of men like Darren O’Hagan, Aidan Carr and Arthur McConville, but have been re-energised by the emergence of the likes of Tom Close and Eamon Brown – both of whom featured in Down’s Ulster U20 success during the summer.

And while Clonduff, like the rest of the chasing pack, have got little change from the Magpies during a decade of championship domination, Copeland hopes the fearlessness of youth within the Hilltown ranks will work to their advantage at Pairc Esler.

“There is belief, and probably something that has helped is the injection of youth in the team,” said Copeland, part of a new-look management team alongside former Tyrone forward Ciaran McBride.

“Those boys wouldn’t have maybe faced Kilcoo in the last five or 10 years, these are all new guys with no fear. The likes of Tom Close, Eamon Brown, young Tiernan McEvoy in the full-back line has no fear of anybody whatsoever. He has really stepped up this year.

“So those young guys have really brought that injection of belief. That has spurred on the older boys too. For the likes of Darren, Aidan, Aidan, Mark McPolin, they’re probably running out of years unfortunately.

“But certainly the effort they’ve put in this year would be an indicator that they’re going for it – that they’re determined to try and cross that bridge.”

Copeland, though, knows all too well the extent of the challenge that lies ahead, having been part of Jim McCorry’s backroom team when Kilcoo lifted the Frank O’Hare Cup in 2014 and ’15.

And during that time he got an insight into what makes the Magpies tick.

“Look, they’re current Ulster club champions, All-Ireland finalists - they are the benchmark in Down,” he said.

“I know how hard they work. Anything you ask them to do, they will do it on the training field, and they take that into the match as well.

“They’re a physical team, a strong running team, a strong defensive team and a strong attacking team – they’re a very cohesive unit.

“A lot of those guys are still playing – Conor Laverty, Paul Greenan has come back into the fold, Feilim McGreevy’s still about, Donal Kane, Gerdie McEvoy… they’re experienced boys to be coming off the bench.

“Yes they’ve developed a lot of youth players but there’s still a vast amount of experience to call on.”

Clonduff are evolving too, though.

Even without star forward Barry O’Hagan getting on the scoresheet, they still had enough firepower to see off Rostrevor in round one last weekend. Sunday, though, is an entirely different kind of challenge.

The comfort blanket of the back door may be there, but Copeland insists the Yellas’ focus is fully on advancing at the first time of asking.

“We’re going there to win the game.

“Psychologically you always want to beat the best, and at the minute Kilcoo are the best. We had a great league match with them a few weeks ago - we were missing a few boys, they were missing a few boys - but that showed us we can compete.

“The most important thing was to be in the winners’ draw, but the performance would need to be improved from the Rostrevor game. We played well in patches, but if you only play well in patches against Kilcoo you’re going to get punished.

“Sunday will be a real battle but, definitely, we’re not looking at any back doors at the minute.”

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