GAA Football

Heavyweight arm-wrestle goes Kilcoo's way as late mistake costs Glen

Kilcoo's Shealin Johnston celebrates at the final whistle of yesterday's intense AIB Ulster semi-final at the Athletic Grounds. Picture Seamus Loughran

Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Kilcoo (Down) 1-11 Watty Graham’s Glen (Derry) 0-11

From Andy Watters at The Athletic Grounds

THE intensity never slackened, not for an instant throughout 80-plus minutes of attritional football and in the end it was Kilcoo who won a heavyweight arm-wrestle and progressed to the Ulster final.

They’ll be favourites when they defend their crown against Fermanagh’s Derrygonnelly on January 16 but they were underdogs yesterday and they earned their three-point success although they were pushed all the way.

Glen led by a point when tired bodies lined out for the second period of extra-time but Jerome Johnston’s goal ultimately and emphatically decided the issue. Defending champions Kilcoo have been involved in many tight games in Ulster over the past decade and assistant-manager Conleith Gilligan said they had expected extra-time and practised penalties in the build-up.

“I think we probably just about deserved the win,” said Gilligan.

“A goal was always going to be massive. We worked really hard on not allowing goal chances and I don’t think they had any and we only got one and Jerome took it and ultimately that was the difference. If that hadn’t gone in the game could have gone the other way.”

Up next for the Magpies is a physically-imposing, experienced Derrygonnelly side that has already accounted for Tyrone’s Dromore and Armagh’s Clann Eireann. The sides met in the 2019 semi-final and Kilcoo won 1-8 to 0-9.

“They had a poor day in front of goal,” said Gilligan.

“They could have had us away that day so we’ll be well warned on that. Their physical size is what sets them apart from a lot of teams, the Jones’s, the McGullions… The pose a completely different challenge.”

Yesterday was one that go away for Glen manager Malachy O’Rourke. His side led by a point at half-time in extra-time and hoped to hold the ball and look for gaps in a Kilcoo side that would have had to come out on the attack in the second period. What’s that they say about the best laid plans?

“We went into extra-time and went one up (thanks to a free from Conor Glass),” said O’Rourke.

“We were in good positions there and it was going to change the dynamic of the game - suddenly they had to start coming out and with us leading, it was going to leave gaps for us at the back. But unfortunately we gave away the goal and it gave them the boost they needed at that particular time and it was always going to come back after that.”

Goalkeeper Conlann Bradley had been solid throughout and leapt to deny Ryan Johnston a point but his kick-out was intercepted by Paul Devlin and Jerome Johnston’s goal decided the game.

“That’s the thing about being the last line of defence, mistakes are obviously magnified in there,” said O’Rourke.

“He has had a great year. We’ll take it on the chin together - we have won the games together and we’ll lose today together. We’ll regroup. That was one mistake. We made other mistakes during the game, we all made mistakes and we’ll take it on the chin.

“We learned plenty from it but immediately after it you’re just disappointed. It was so close, we felt we had the game in our grasp at that stage. I know there was a right bit to go and Kilcoo would have had a big say in it but we felt that we had got ourselves into a good position so it was very disappointing to concede the goal.

“That’s it, that’s football at this level.”

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