GAA Football

Kilcoo can keep Clonduff at bay in Down championship clash

Jerome Johnston will pose a major threat to the Clonduff rearguard when the neighbours collide at Pairc Esler tomorrow. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Neil Loughran

Down Senior Football Championship round two: Clonduff v Kilcoo (tomorrow, Pairc Esler, 3pm – live on Down GAA TV)

A QUARTER-FINAL spot is up for grabs as neighbours Clonduff and Kilcoo get ready to renew their rivalry at Pairc Esler tomorrow.

With the draw taking place immediately after Monday night’s showdown between Burren and Glenn, both will be determined to have a last eight spot secured, rather than taking their chances through the back door route.

For Clonduff, though, there are some demons to overcome. You have to go back a decade for their last championship victory over the Magpies, during which time Kilcoo have become the established force in Down – lifting the Frank O’Hare Cup eight out of the nine times since.

Along the way there have been painful defeats for the Yellas, not least the 2016 decider when Clonduff were unable to stop Kilcoo’s drive for five, before suffering extra-time heartache in the first round the following year.

When they met at the semi-final stage two years ago, Clonduff found themselves two points ahead going into the final quarter, only for the Magpies’ renowned composure to kick in as they slowly but surely put their rivals away.

Over time, Kilcoo have mastered the art of game management. In Down, possibly even in Ulster, there is nobody better at knowing exactly when to crank up the heat, or when to take the sting from a game.

That is sure to play on opponents’ minds. Just as they had done in the previous year’s championship opener, Mayobridge started strongly and took a two point lead into half-time. But there is almost an inevitability about the way in which the Magpies work their way back into games.

And as the ’Bridge dropped deeper, Kilcoo scented blood – goals from Jerome and Ryan Johnston, and a late tap in for Miceal Rooney, easing Mickey Moran’s men across the line.

There were more gears left but, such was their clinical control, they didn’t need them. The mixture of youth and experience at the minute makes them all the more formidable looking at the years ahead.

Last week Martin McCourt, goalkeeper throughout the club’s run to the 2020 All-Ireland final, again proved a more than able deputy for Niall Kane between the sticks.

Young Anthony Morgan, Shealan Johnston and second half sub Sean Og McCusker were cornerstones of the Down U20s’ Ulster title triumph over the summer, as was Justin Clarke, while Ryan McEvoy is still only 20 and Ceilum Doherty 24.

Jerome and Ryan Johnston are in their late 20s and finding top form again, while Paul Devlin, the Branagan brigade, Paul Greenan and the ageless Conor Laverty bring so much know-how.

With injury ruling out Darragh O’Hanlon and Chrissy Rooney, it remains to be seen whether free-taker Devlin (knee) and midfielder Dylan Ward (shoulder) will be fit to play any part tomorrow having missed the Mayobridge game.

Clonduff are waiting on players returning from the treatment table too, with talented young forward Paudie Clancy, Ruairi Lively, John Boden and Rian Brannigan closing in on returns.

In their absence, though, the Yellas still proved too strong for Rostrevor last week – goals from veterans Darren O’Hagan and Arthur McConville, as well as exciting youngster Eamon Brown, seeing off the Reds.

A patchy performance will need to be improved upon, but Clonduff will have taken some confidence from a league win over Kilcoo earlier this month. And the Tyrone theme continues at Clonduff Park where former Red Hand forward Ciaran McBride is now at the helm, having taken over from Mark Harte and Adrian O’Donnell.

McBride has brought “a real sense of professionalism, and a sense of belief” to the set-up, according to assistant Mark Copeland, but tomorrow provides the ultimate test of their championship credentials.

Barry O’Hagan didn’t manage to get on the scoreboard against Rostrevor, but Clonduff will need their star forward to be at his electric best if they are to have any hope of upsetting the all-conquering Magpies.


LEAGUE champions Warrenpoint bid to bounce back from their shock opening round defeat to Longstone when they take on Bryansford at Pairc Esler tomorrow night (7.15pm).

With the dust settling on the earlier battle between neighbours Clonduff and Kilcoo in Newry, Shane Mulholland’s ’Point go into the last chance saloon against a ’Ford side also licking its wounds after losing to Glenn on Monday.

Having only lost to eventual champions Kilcoo in the final or semi-final of the last three championship campaigns, they were expected to be among the leading contenders once more – and may still be.

However, the absence of experienced campaigners Ross McGarry, John Boyle, Ciaran McCartan and Donnach McAleenan has come at a bad time, while that defeat to the ’Stone was a bolt from the blue.

Benny Coulter’s men, meanwhile, take on fellow round one winners RGU Downpatrick in Dundrum this evening (5pm), aiming to build on the momentum from victory over the ’Point.

Longstone produced a fantastic defensive display that night to hold Warrenpoint to 0-7 – the ’Stone still winning despite not registering another score after half-time.

They will do well to keep Downpatrick to a similar tally, however, after they bagged 3-8 on the way to trumping last year’s beaten finalists Carryduff.

First half goals from Oran Cunningham (two) and Conor McGrady did the damage in the end, but the work-rate and movement of Jarlath Brannigan caught the eye all afternoon, while the pace of county star Caolan Mooney – making his championship debut for RGU – is a major weapon for Aidan Robinson’s side.

Bredagh and Ballyholland also bid to keep up the winning habit when they meet in Castlewellan tomorrow (5pm).

The Belfast men recovered from a nightmare start last week, finding themselves down 1-1 after 90 seconds against Castlewellan, but with Donal Hughes and former Fermanagh player Tommy McElroy in good form, they eventually moved across the line.

Ballyholland have plenty of championship experience at this stage, having been around the latter stages in recent years, and two goals inside a minute in the final quarter eventually saw them past Loughinisland on the opening weekend.

A lone voice from the stand may not have been happy when this draw was pulled from the bowl on Monday, but Jody Gormley’s Blues have the chance to bounce back when they take on Mayobridge in Newcastle this afternoon (3pm) - the championship trapdoor looming for the losers.

The ’Island lived to regret a series of second half wides after leading Ballyholland by three at the break, and will know they can’t afford a repeat today.

Similarly, Mayobridge led old foes Kilcoo by two at the break last week but, as is so often the case, the Magpies found another gear when it mattered.

After their defeat to Bredagh, Castlewellan face a back door shoot-out with Pete McGrath’s Rostrevor in Ballymartin this evening (7.15pm). The Reds lost out 3-10 to 1-7 against Clonduff last weekend, though the eventual margin of victory probably flattered the Hilltown men.

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