GAA Football

Kingpins Kilcoo hold off late Burren fightback to take Down title again

Kilcoo's Jerome Johnston lashes home an early goal as the Magpies claimed their ninth Down title in 20 years with victory over Burren yesterday. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran at Pairc Esler

Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship final: St Mary’s, Burren 0-13 Eoghan Rua, Kilcoo 1-12

A FALTERING microphone wasn’t going to stop Conor Laverty getting his message across to the hordes of Kilcoo supporters revelling in yet another Down championship success as darkness began to fall on Newry yesterday.

A two point victory over old foes Burren ensured the Magpies would bring the Frank O’Hare Cup back up the road for the ninth time in 10 years, but Laverty wanted to go back further still. To some dark days before the levee broke in 2009, when a 72-year wait to call themselves kings finally came to an end.

After such a period of complete and utter dominance, it would be easy to assume that days like this would eventually whizz by in the blink of an eye, each one mattering slightly less than the one before.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yesterday, Laverty was marked by Ryan Magill, one of the star turns of the Down U20 side he helped guide to Ulster title glory during the summer.

Who knows how many more times he and joint captain Aidan Branagan will get to climb those steps, their children hanging around their shoulders while the sea of black below hung on each word.

From the wild celebrations which greeted that breakthrough triumph 12 years ago to now, sitting on top of the tree after completing three in-a-row, every single second of every single one is savoured.

“I remember we left Hilltown one night and a man told us ‘you’ll never win one championship’. Well,” said the 35-year-old, pausing as the PA system started to give way, “that man can add a zero to that one now…”

One man who played a significant part in that success story was Jim McCorry, wrestling control back from Burren to lead Kilcoo to a hat-trick of titles between 2012 and 2014. Yesterday he was back on the line in a Down final, this time with the St Mary’s, attempting to reverse the roles of a decade previous.

Yet his side simply left it too late.

The towering Shay McArdle came off the bench and made a huge impact, helping cut the deficit to two at one stage, but Mickey Moran’s men have been around the block too many times to be caught in the headlights late on – though it took an added time score from Anthony Morgan, just back on the field after a black card, to finally provide the daylight they needed at the death.

In truth, though, the real damage was done in the first half.

Without the pace of Liam Kerr - who suffered a broken collarbone in the semi-final victory over Clonduff – and the industry of Cathal Foy, injured through the week, Burren looked toothless.

They finished the first half with 0-5 but were heavily reliant on Donal O’Hare frees to keep them in the game as Kilcoo found a way around the St Mary’s sweeper system all too often, and all too easily.

Free-roaming Ryan Johnston was the star turn, his ability to elegantly stride into space lighting up a superb performance. When the opportunities arose, he didn’t waste a single one, bagging four from play.

Younger brother Shealan looked lively up top before being forced off at half-time with suspected concussion, while it was the eye for goal of eldest sibling Jerome that cemented Kilcoo’s early ascendancy five minutes in.

The deadly Down forward ghosted into the square after a Daryl Branagan pass found its way into his palms via Burren hands. For a split second Johnston thought about going for the point before lashing high and handsome beyond Cillian Burns for the game’s only goal.

Others were there for the taking during the first half as Burren struggled to get a foothold in the game, only for the Magpies to let them off the hook.

Leading by five at the break, Aidan Branagan was brought on to replace Shealan Johnston, dropping straight back into his familiar sweeper role. Bridging the gap suddenly looked twice as tough.

And when Ryan McEvoy’s 49th minute free made it 1-11 to 0-8, any case made for a Burren comeback would have been tough to take seriously.

McArdle’s introduction led to a nervous final quarter for the Magpies, especially after Morgan’s black card, but the goal they craved never really looked like coming as Kilcoo held firm.

Having been denied the opportunity to defend their Ulster title last year, the Magpies are back where they wanted to be – a December 5 date with whoever comes out of the Cavan final replay between Gowna and Ramor United, and the beginning of another journey.

Burren: C Burns; P McCarthy, R Magill; C McGovern; G McGovern, S Fegan, P Fegan; M McKay, O Murdock, D McEntee; R McGrath (0-2), A McAvoy, D Magill (0-1, 45); D O’Hare (0-7, frees), K McKernan (0-1). Subs: C Toner for McAvoy (HT), R Treanor for C McGovern (41), S McArdle (0-2) for McKay (49), P Poland for McGrath (53)

Black card: G McGovern (7-17)

Yellow cards: M McKay (43), P Poland (59)

Kilcoo: N Kane; N Branagan, R McEvoy (0-1, free); N McEvoy; M Rooney (0-1), Anthony Morgan (0-1), A Branagan; D Ward, Aaron Morgan, C Doherty; P Devlin (0-3, frees), R Johnston (0-4), J Johnston (1-0); C Laverty, S Johnston (0-2). Subs: E Branagan for D Branagan (28), A Branagan for S Johnston (HT), J Clarke for E Branagan (blood sub 57, reversed 60+2), F McGreevy for Laverty (60+3)

Black card: Anthony Morgan (50-60)

Yellow cards: D Ward (23), R Johnston (30), J Clarke (60+3)

Referee: B Rice (Warrenpoint)

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