Kilcoo players want to leave a legacy says Magpies assistant Conleith Gilligan
AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championship final: Eoghan Rua, Kilcoo (Down) 3-10 Derrygonnelly Harps (Fermanagh) 0-3
KILCOO showed their ruthless streak as they laid claim to a second Ulster crown in-a-row – and assistant manager Conleith Gilligan says the Magpies are determined “to leave some sort of legacy” after dismissing Derrygonnelly Harps yesterday.
The Fermanagh champions showed the scoring threat they possess in their semi-final win over Clann Eireann, and gave the Magpies plenty to think about before losing out by two at the semi-final stage in 2019.
However, they managed just three points as goals from Darryl Branagan, Ceilum Doherty and Shealan Johnston helped Mickey Moran’s men cruise across the line at the Athletic Grounds.
Given the margin of victory, the celebrations were subdued in the aftermath. Even the trophy presentation felt like something of an after-thought as minds turned towards the next step – a January 29 All-Ireland semi-final showdown against Cork’s St Finbarr’s, who defeated Austin Stack’s to claim the Munster title yesterday.
Yet, after suffering so many false dawns before their Ulster breakthrough, Gilligan insists getting back to the provincial summit – having missed out on the opportunity last year due to the pandemic – will never lose its lustre.
“It’s massive because last year we were going really well. We were probably playing better football than the year before,” said Gilligan, an Ulster club winner with Ballinderry in 2001 and 2013.
“The team had changed a wee bit and I suppose some of our older players were a year younger. It was difficult because we had a bit of momentum from the year before - Covid meant that that was gone so we had to start again.
“The players that were a year older last year were now another year older, but credit to them. They had won one Ulster after having a decade of nearly misses.
“To win it again is special, because I suppose most teams, they want to leave some sort of a legacy where they are not just a team that wins one, they want to win a couple.
“That’s important, especially when the older players look back at their careers.”
A much stiffer challenge had been expected from the Harps, but Kilcoo’s calm and composure saw them stroll to a 16-point victory.
And the goal threat that ended Clann Eireann’s Ulster interest was comfortably quelled as Derrygonnelly tried to drag themselves back into the game after the break.
It was something the Magpies knew they had to be wary of.
“They have scored a lot of goals like that through Fermanagh and through Ulster. We knew based on their physical size and what they have that was going to be something they were going to try,” said Gilligan.
“We have worked really hard in the last couple of weeks to make sure we had players in around… they hit the crossbar early in the first half with the long ball in, and if that had have went into the net it would have changed the complexion of the game.
“We went down and got a goal at the other side, all of a sudden the game was turned on its head.”
And, despite yesterday’s success, the former Derry forward insists celebrations will be kept to a minimum to ensure Covid can’t wreak havoc with their plans for that last four clash in a fortnight’s time.
Didn't see game live, just finished it. Plenty of big names in that Kilcoo team but three men without big profiles have been so impressive this year - Dylan Ward, Ryan McEvoy and Miceal Rooney. Kilcoo were underestimated before Ulster began. An All-Ireland is very possible now pic.twitter.com/HUXK9zuzBZ— Cahair O'Kane (@CahairOKane1) January 16, 2022
“It is strange. You have to mark it, these are very special occasions, but we are still not travelling on buses, not using changing rooms - the boys will throw their bag in but they are not showering there.
“We are just trying to stay as Covid-safe as possible because it’s still a thing and it is probably the one thing that will derail you in the next week or two if it does happen to get into your team.”