One performance doesn't guarantee Ulster Championship success for Magpies warns Jerome Johnston
KILCOO came perilously close to losing their triple crown of Down, Ulster and All-Ireland titles during their county championship campaign but they left nothing to chance in Clones on Sunday.
The Magpies were back to their fluent best against a Ballybay team that did look heavy-legged after playing Crossmaglen eight days' previously but, even at their best, would have struggled to cope with Kilcoo's pace, tenacity and cutting edge.
The 10-point destruction of the Monaghan champions means Kilcoo have been installed as favourites to win Ulster now but they have to get past Enniskillen Gaels before they can think about either Derry's Glen or Antrim's Cargin in the final.
“Enniskillen came through a mammoth game (against Cavan's Gowna) and they'll be bringing everything,” said Jerome Johnston.
“Our concentration was split between Crossmaglen and Ballybay for a couple of weeks but our focus is now on Enniskillen and they're going to feel in a really good position having come through that quarter-final.”
Johnston registered the first point on Sunday but that was his only score. So often the hero for his club last season, we haven't yet seen the best of him in this campaign. But this Kilcoo unit totals much more than the sum of their parts and it was his brother Ryan who scored the game-defining goal in the second half.
“Ballybay put two massive performances together and the nation was able to see that last Saturday when they played Crossmaglen, six-time All-Ireland winners, and played really, really well,” said Johnston.
“We knew what we were coming up against and we didn't have a competitive – or any type of – game in four weeks, even a challenge game. So it was about finding our feet, settling in and seeing where we could take it and thankfully we got the result.”
Ballybay didn't have Johnston's dad in their dugout on Sunday. Having helped take the Pearse Brothers to the Monaghan title and past Crossmaglen, Jerome senior could not compete against his beloved Kilcoo. His son said his father was “being true to himself”.
“I was actually just looking at my own son Lár this morning and, when I put myself in that position, it's hard because my dad had three sons and six nephews involved,” said Jerome junior.
“I think he did the right thing in terms of being true to himself. Unless someone's been in that position, it's really hard to say.
“We knew the whole time that he had decided a while ago. It wasn't mentioned; it was probably in the back of our heads but not something we spoke about. Anyone who knows daddy - it's one game at a time! He'd drive that into you at home.
“I know it was a tough week for him, my mum and everyone because it was getting so much attention. Anywhere you looked it seemed to be the first thing coming up. It was one of those things you tried to nullify as much as you could but it was still in the back of your head.”
Nine of Kilcoo's starting 15 got on the scoresheet on Sunday and 1-5 of their 2-14 total came from the defence including two points (one off either foot) from attacking full-back Ryan McEvoy.
“That's what it's about – everyone putting a team performance in,” said Johnston.
“You do that and we reap the rewards and sometimes individuals can reap the rewards as well so everyone's happy with where we're at.
“The job was to get the win and we've done that and we'll look back and review it and take it from there. It's hard to say from one performance where exactly we are. The ground is changing as well and some teams adapt to the conditions better than others. We're happy to get the result and we have to go back and work harder again to get a result the next day.”