Break from football did me the world of good admits Kilcoo's Ryan Johnston

Ryan Johnston was outstanding as Kilcoo claimed the Down championship, and carried that form into the club's Ulster campaign. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Ryan Johnston was outstanding as Kilcoo claimed the Down championship, and carried that form into the club's Ulster campaign. Picture by Seamus Loughran

HAVING helped Kilcoo successfully defend their Ulster crown, Ryan Johnston believes he is now reaping the rewards of an extended break from football last year.

The 28-year-old has been involved with club and county for most of the past decade, the dual demands of which inevitably took a toll as a series of niggly injuries blighted recent years.

With the Magpies’ long run of success often sending them deep into the winter months, there had been little respite for those Kilcoo players drafted straight into the county set-up and, last year, Johnston – as well as brother Jerome – opted to take a break from Down duty, while youngest sibling Shealan played for the U20s.

As a result, he has looked reinvigorated throughout their club campaign so far, posting a man-of-the-match performance in the county final victory over rivals Burren before carrying that form into Ulster.

“To be honest with you, last year I took a while out, just tried to get different injuries cleared up and, touch wood, I’ve been fine so far,” he said in the wake of Sunday’s 16-point victory over Derrygonnelly, which set up a January 29 All-Ireland semi-final showdown with Munster champions St Finbarr’s.

“I just had to take a wee bit of time to try and get myself right... it was disappointing for a few years there because I kept breaking down. I was maybe playing a few games but I wasn’t getting to train as frequently as I would like.

“When you’re going from the club into county, and if your club does well, then there’s no stop at all. The longer you’re playing there’s probably more chance of picking up niggles here and there.

“Sometimes you can maybe shake them off, other times it takes longer. You’re always playing catch up then and maybe skipping a few steps to get back there. Thankfully I’ve had a clean bill of health so far this year, hopefully that continues.”

Wednesday marked two years since Kilcoo were edged out in the All-Ireland final by Corofin and, having already conquered Ulster, the Magpies have been installed as favourites to go all the way this time.

Johnston isn’t looking beyond the Barrs next time out, but feels Mickey Moran’s men have grown as a unit since that Corofin defeat.

“That day there was very little in it. It went the whole way and then they were fortunate enough to get a goal in off the post… a goal’s a big score in a game like that.

“We’ve more experience now, but it’s a lot of the same personnel, maybe adding in one or two here and there. Our boys did a lot of work over lockdown, dedication is second to none for every one of them, and we were a bit gutted we couldn’t get a crack at Ulster last year.

“In sport, in life in general, you don’t know what’s around the corner for anybody. We live and breathe football, and it makes it all worth it on days like today.”

Last week brother Jerome didn’t rule out a possible Down return later this year, and playmaker Ryan says it is something he will look at when the time comes.

“I’ve always enjoyed any time I’ve played with Down… I’ll finish this here off first and then we’ll see what happens.”