Ballybay triumph sets up Kilcoo reunion for Jerome Johnston sr
AIB Ulster Club SFC preliminary round: Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) 1-9 Pearse Brothers, Ballybay (Monaghan) 2-11
IT remains to be seen whether Jerome Johnston sr will lead Ballybay into battle against his beloved Kilcoo this weekend – and joint manager Mark Doran was giving little away in the wake of Saturday night’s Ulster championship ousting of Crossmaglen.
A magnificent second half performance saw the Monaghan champions topple Cross at the Athletic Grounds to set up a Sunday showdown with Kilcoo in Clones, but they could face up to the reigning All-Ireland kingpins without Doran’s managerial partner on the line.
A former player and club stalwart, Johnston sr played a major role in the Magpies’ revival during recent decades – and that’s before you even get to the family ties on the field.
Sons Jerome jr, Ryan and Shealan are all expected to feature in Kilcoo’s Ulster quarter-final, as are nephews Ceilum Doherty and the Branagan contingent, Aidan, Aaron, Darryl and Niall. Their brother Eugene, who was named club player of the year for his performances in the Magpies’ All-Ireland run, is suspended for Sunday’s game after picking up a late red card in the Down final victory over Warrenpoint.
It leaves the Ballybay joint manager – who turned down interview requests after the Crossmaglen game - in a difficult position, and Doran was also keeping his cards close to his chest.
“Look, he hasn’t said he’s not.
“That’s a thing for Jerome, but I know there’s nobody in Ballybay would think anything less of Jerome, and certainly he owes Ballybay nothing, he owes Kilcoo nothing, the work the man’s done for that club…
“I asked him in there was there any chance of throwing your boys out and they go missing next Sunday, that would be a big help. But he never answered me!
“Look, at the minute we’re all there, so that’s all we can say.”
Saturday night’s success was Ballybay’s first victory in the Ulster Club, and one that saw them defy the bookies’ odds to seal a last eight spot.
With county stars like Dessie Ward and the Wylie brothers, Drew and Ryan, among their ranks - as well as veteran Paul Finlay rolling back the years on his competition debut at 39 – the Monaghan men proved they are a force to be reckoned with on the provincial front.
But, as a fellow Down man who worked with some of the Kilcoo players while part of Paddy Tally’s Mourne management team, Doran is well aware of the challenge Ballybay face on Sunday.
“Jerome knows them pretty well obviously,” smiled the Longstone man.
“They’ve won the last couple of Ulsters, been in the last two All-Ireland finals, they’re reigning All-Ireland champions and probably the most consistent team in Ulster over the last 10 years.
“Ballybay know exactly what’s ahead of them but we’ll enjoy tonight and worry about Kilcoo in the morning. To be fair, we came here and the only thing in our head was winning. I’m so delighted for them boys in there because of the work they’ve put in - I couldn’t be more proud of them.
“It’s been well documented that Ballybay have never won an Ulster Club game, coming in against Cross who have won All-Irelands and Ulster titles, so there was serious motivation within the group.
“Everybody will enjoy tonight but we know we have the Ulster and All-Ireland champions coming to Clones. They don’t come much bigger than that.”