GAA Football

Classic battle on the cards as Ulster champions Kilcoo square up to Derry men who would be kings

Glen Conor Glass leaps above Darren Hughes of Scotstown to claim the ball during the Ulster Football Senior Club Championship quarter-final at Celtic Park. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Andy Watters

Ulster Senior Club Football Championship: Kilcoo Eoghan Rua (Down) v Watty Graham' Glen (Derry (tomorrow, 4pm, the Athletic Grounds)

THERE'S no silverware for the winners tomorrow but good judges will tell you that this is a meeting of the best two club sides in the country and that the victors will go on to win the All-Ireland.

That remains to be seen, but there is no doubting the quality that will be on display in what promises to be a classic at the Athletic Grounds when the reigning Ulster champions meet the Derry men who would be kings.

Both line-ups are laced with inter-county quality and on the sidelines the astute and experienced Malachy O'Rourke pits himself against the tactical genius of Mickey Moran who has the (you suspect unwanted but unavoidable) task of trying to knock out his own club.

A look at the respective track records of tomorrow's combatants shows that the Down Magpies are much more battle-hardened than O'Rourke's men. Kilcoo won their ninth county title this year and were Ulster champions and All-Ireland finalists in 2019. Meanwhile, although it's hard to believe after watching them over the past couple of months, Glen won their first-ever Derry title when they turned over rivals Slaughtneil early last month.

So experience isn't on their side but that's unlikely to be a factor tomorrow because Glen have two Ulster games under their belts now and after a relatively shaky start against Donegal's St Eunan's, they glided past a vastly-experienced Scotstown outfit at the quarter-final stage.

Monaghan champions Scotstown had two men sent off at Celtic Park but, even with a full complement, they wouldn't have won the game. They were far too open at the back and were ripped to shreds by a Glen side that has scorers all over the field.

No-one will know more about Glen than Mickey Moran and he will not make the same mistake tomorrow. Kilcoo (who have former St Eunan's manager Richie Thornton in their management team) are certain to adopt the tactics the Donegal champions used against Glen in the preliminary round when they withdrew everyone behind the ball and could have won a game of attrition had they been able to take their chances.

Moran will also be well aware of the influence Ciaran McFaul has on this Glen side from centre half-back. The Derry star has looked the best club player in Ulster this year and Scotstown just couldn't handle him in the quarter-final. One thing about Kilcoo, they can identify their opponent's main threat and they make a habit of nullifying it. Moran has the markers to do the job and Eugene Branagan, Ceilum Doherty, Dylan Ward and Daryl Branagan are all options tomorrow.

Daryl Branagan is Kilcoo's McFaul. All Kilcoo would say this week was that he will be named in the programme but if he is anywhere near fit you'd expect him to start tomorrow. ‘Dabs' is a vitally-important cog in the Kilcoo machine but he has struggled for fitness all year and his loss would be a hammerblow for the Magpies.

In their quarter-final, Kilcoo's forward power saw them kill off Cavan champions Ramor United but the 3-13 to 1-8 win did paper over some cracks at midfield and they will be magnified tomorrow by a Glen unit that ruled the skies against Scotstown with Conor Glass and Emmet Bradley outstanding. What can the Magpies do to blunt Glen's threat in that department? Glen will press all their kick-outs and force them to kick the ball long and Kilcoo will have to throw Aidan Branagan into the mixer with Aaron Morgan and Dylan Ward and battle for every break.

On the flipside, the Down champions are likely to stand off Glen's kick-outs and mass in their own half looking to turn the ball over and, like a coiled spring, gallop forward on the break.

Kilcoo will look to man-mark McFaul but of course Glen will many ask other questions of them. The Derry champions' front two of Paul Gunning and Danny Tallon found pockets of space deep in Scotstown territory in the quarter-final and the ball up to them was precise. Kilcoo have good man-markers in their full-back line but Gunning and Tallon, and Jack Doherty from centre half-forward, will cause them problems.

The Glen defence will be under the pump too of course. They have looked brilliant going forward this year but can they handle this Kilcoo attack? In Conor Laverty, Paul Devlin and the Johnston brothers Jerome, Ryan and Shealan, the Magpies have a forward unit that many counties would like. Against Scotstown, Glen had to worry about Kieran Hughes and Conor McCarthy but there'll be many more puzzles for them to solve tomorrow.

So this is Glen's biggest test of the year by a country mile but it's also Kilcoo's. The picture is muddied by all these ifs, buts and maybes but, I have to pick a winner, and I'll go for the Derry men to shade it by a couple of points.

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GAA Football