Ballybay will need 'edge' for Kilcoo battle: Dessie Ward

Dessie Ward was a central figure as Ballybay toppled Crossmaglen on Saturday - with All-Ireland champions Kilcoo up next. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Dessie Ward was a central figure as Ballybay toppled Crossmaglen on Saturday - with All-Ireland champions Kilcoo up next. Picture by Seamus Loughran

BALLYBAY “didn’t take a backward step” when ousting Crossmaglen at the Athletic Grounds – and Dessie Ward knows that extra edge will be required against reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions Kilcoo on Sunday.

Saturday’s success crowned Ballybay’s first venture into the provincial arena since 2012, as they recovered from a slow start to overwhelm Crossmaglen on their way to setting up an Ulster quarter-final showdown with the Magpies.

And, having already claimed Cross’s scalp, the Monaghan champions will fancy their chances of springing another major upset this weekend.

“We said the prize at stake was getting to play the All-Ireland champions,” said Ward.

“That’s something every one of us is going to take as a privilege, and we’re relishing that challenge. We know there’s a massive battle at hand.

“Ballybay had never won a game in the Ulster club championship, Cross deservedly had the favourites’ tag, but we had confidence from going and playing Scotstown. The Monaghan championship is unbelievably competitive, every game you play you’re in for a battle, so we knew we had that in the bank.

“It was just a matter of coming here and performing tonight. No matter about Cross’s name, we know they’ve been successful but we just put that to the back of our heads because we knew if we could provide a performance based on how we’ve been playing all year, that we would give them a rattle.”

The Monaghan star was a central figure on Saturday, and will have to be against the Magpies too.

Although veteran forward Paul Finlay picked up the man of the match award when all was said and done, he must have been pushed hard by Ballybay's beating heart as Ward drove his side forward all night.

There was barely a blade of grass he didn’t cover as he launched into tackles, burst forward at will, played a host of telling passes and landed two points from play. Where Ward set the tone, his team-mates followed, refusing to be cowed by Crossmaglen’s reputation on the way to a five point victory.

Considerable credit also goes to Ballybay’s joint management team, county Down pair Jerome Johnston sr and Mark Doran, in changing their approach once the white line is crossed.

Apart from being so well organised, there was a doggedness and a controlled aggression that saw Ballybay end a decade’s drought in Monaghan before opening their Ulster account.

“To be fair that would’ve been a thing we had heard before we went down to Ballybay,” said Doran, who will begin a coaching role with Colm Collins’s Clare once the club campaign comes to an end.

“I remember a fella saying to me ‘I have three daughters in the house and if they came home with a Ballybay player I’d be delighted because they’re all gentlemen’. That is one of the first things we did say - it’s great to be nice but, when you go on the field, you have to play with that edge.

“The last 14, 16 months they have really played with that edge.”

Ward couldn’t agree more. He is unlikely to enjoy anything like the same kind of space at St Tiernach’s Park on Sunday as Kilcoo begin their Ulster title defence, but if it turns into a dogfight, a war of attrition, then the Monaghan men are ready.

“It probably is that, and belief,” said Ward.

“That’s a massive thing that Jerome and Mark have brought to the team - they’ve instilled that within us. They’ve said from day dot that Ulster Championship is where you want to compete, then giving us the belief to win our county championship, then go on again and beat one of the most decorated clubs in club football.

“Obviously there is that bit of an edge too that has come into the team, you can see that with different things that went on tonight. We didn’t take a backward step against Crossmaglen, so that’s definitely something they have brought to the table.”