GAA Football

Kilcoo finish strong to send Clonduff into last chance saloon

Jerome Johnston celebrates after scoring Kilcoo's first half goal during yesterday's victory over Clonduff, which moves the Magpies into the last eight of the Down championship. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran at Pairc Esler

Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship round two: Clonduff 1-8 Kilcoo 1-11

LYING flat on his back, hands cupping his face, Barry O’Hagan’s body language said it all. Heading into the final five minutes of a Down championship clash that failed to fully ignite, the ball found its way into the hands of Clonduff’s ace marksman no more than three metres from goal.

With Aaron Branagan breathing down his neck, and the wet sod beneath his studs giving way, O’Hagan’s high shot didn’t trouble the net, his misery compounded by the sight of the umpire’s waving arms.

A point would have closed the gap to the minimum. A goal, though, could have totally shifted the momentum in Clonduff’s favour heading down the straight. Those are the moments when you simply cannot afford to let Kilcoo off the hook.

The story after that is a familiar one when looking back across the Magpies’ Down championship dominance over the last decade. With the game in the melting pot, Clonduff managed one more score before Miceal Rooney and Shealan Johnston closed the show with the minimum of fuss to send Mickey Moran’s men the quarter-final draw, which takes place after tonight’s meeting between Burren and Glenn.

For the men on the line, though, it isn’t so easy to watch.

“Clonduff carry a savage threat up front,” said Kilcoo assistant boss Conleith Gilligan.

“They had that goal chance, and engineered it out of very little. They always have that goal threat, you can never be far enough ahead against them and we saw it before when it looked like we were out the gate, suddenly they got a goal and it’s game on again.

“When you’ve Arthur McConville, Barry O’Hagan and them boys about, you can’t relax because they can just punish you in an instant. But look, we’re delighted to be through.”

Kilcoo played in fits and starts yesterday, the Magpies nowhere near their best – particularly in the first half when the ball was kicked straight down the throat of Clonduff sweeper Aidan Carr too often, with the men in black uncharacteristically running into trouble on several other occasions.

Five first half wides were a hammer blow for the Yellas – especially two relatively straightforward O’Hagan frees that sailed to the left of the uprights. It was a second scoreless weekend in-a-row for the county star, but a man of that class won’t be kept down for long. Whoever Clonduff pull from the hat tonight should fear a backlash.

Ciaran McBride’s side were quickest out of the blocks, Kilcoo failing to score until after the first water break as Clonduff edged ahead.

But when a Jerome Johnston goal was followed by scores from Eugene Branagan and the excellent Ceilum Dohery, all in the space of three minutes, the tide was turning – with Clonduff architects of their own difficulties in that period.

Johnston’s goal came when Paul Greenan won a Clonduff kick-out and found Ryan Johnston. Having rattled the crossbar minutes earlier, he saw another shot cannon up and out, but this time older brother Jerome was on hand to roll the ball home.

“We’re very disappointed. They scored 1-2 in the first half from our kick-outs, so a large percentage of their scores came from us,” said Clonduff coach Mark Copeland, “Rostrevor punished us last week on turnovers, so that’s a big thing we need to focus on in training games now.”

The Yellas lost Tom Close to a black card just before half-time but, rather than trying to take the sting from the game until his return, they caught Kilcoo on the break three minutes into the second half, Patrick O’Hagan finding Eamon Brown who off-loaded to Jayme Gribben in acres of space.

The wing-back buried beyond Martin McCourt to put Clonduff two up, 1-5 to 1-3, but Kilcoo soon dragged them back into the trenches thanks to a Ryan McEvoy free and another Doherty score.

Aidan Carr sent former Down team-mate Conor Laverty for a pint of milk with a lovely dummy before lashing over but when substitute Dylan Ward laid on an easy score for Ryan Johnston before Jerome curled over a free, Kilcoo had snatched the upper hand heading into the last 10.

O’Hagan’s missed goal opportunity was the crucial moment as the seconds ticked down and, as the ball sailed wide, with it went Clonduff’s chances of sealing that elusive championship victory over their neighbours.

Clonduff: P Gribben; L Branagan, D O’Hagan, T McEvoy; A Carr (0-1); P Branagan, C Carr, J Gribben (1-0); T Close, R Carr (0-2, 0-1 free); P O’Hagan, S McConville (0-2, 0-1 free), B O’Hagan; A McConville (0-2), E Brown (0-1). Subs: J O’Hagan for L Branagan (45), P Wilson for P O’Hagan (49), S McGreevy for McEvoy (54), T McGreevy for B O’Hagan (57)

Yellow cards: B O’Hagan (57), A Carr (61)

Black card: T Close (30-40)

Kilcoo: M McCourt; N Branagan, R McEvoy (0-1, free); Aidan Branagan; Anthony Morgan, M Rooney (0-1), Aaron Branagan; P Greenan, Aaron Morgan; C Doherty (0-3), S Johnston (0-2), E Branagan (0-1); C Laverty, R Johnston (0-2), J Johnston (1-1, 0-1 free). Subs: T Fettes for Greenan (41), D Ward for E Branagan (49), J Clarke for C Doherty (64)

Yellow cards: P Greenan (8), R Johnston (44), C Laverty (60+3)

Referee: B Rice (Warrenpoint)

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