GAA Football

Kilcoo expect Ward to be fit for final

Kilcoo's Dylan Ward and Warrenpoint's Ruairi McCormack in action during the Morgan Fuels Down GAA Senior Football championship final between Kilcoo and Warrenpoint. Pic by Philip Walsh.

KILCOO joint-manager Conleith Gilligan expects Dylan Ward to be fit for next weekend’s mouthwatering Ulster Club final with Glen.

The big midfielder wasn’t togged out for the reigning All-Ireland champions as they disposed of the challenge of Enniskillen Gaels on Saturday evening.

Anthony Morgan moved in and paired up with his brother Aaron, with the latter doing a fine job on Brandon Horan as well as scoring Kilcoo’s third goal that quelled the faint hopes of a comeback from the Fermanagh town men.

Ward appeared to be struggling during the first half of the quarter-final win over Ballybay but played on until he earned a second booking in stoppage time.

Given Glen’s strength at midfield, where Allstar Conor Glass and his Derry team-mate Emmett Bradley have been formidable all season, Ward will be expected to do a man-marking job on one of them.

“He’s just been carrying a niggle and we didn’t want to risk him because you don’t know where it’s gonna go. We just tried to rest it,” said Gilligan.

“I’ll be expecting to see him out in two weeks’ time.”

It remains to be seen whether Eugene Branagan, who won the GAA’s Club Footballer of the Year award after their All-Ireland winning campaign, can force his way back in for the decider.

Ward’s absence created a gap in the team but the spot was given to youngster Tiarnan Fettes instead, with Branagan coming on as a half-time sub to good effect.

“It’s just a case tonight that the team the last day did really well and if you play well, you stay on. I thought he [Branagan] did really well and equipped himself brilliantly when he came in,” said the Ballinderry native.

As has been their way in recent seasons, Kilcoo have gone up through the gears since they scraped their way out of Down.

A penalty shootout with Clonduff in the quarter-final and a one-point extra-time win over Warrenpoint in the decider were close shaves.

That was nothing out of context with past campaigns where they’ve had near misses before going on to play their best football in the provincial series.

The spell between Shealan Johnston’s first goal and his second on Saturday night saw them hit 2-6 and open a 13-point half-time lead with some scintillating football.

They’d overwhelmed a Ballybay team that were fancied in some quarters and Gilligan feels it’s become the norm for the Ulster series to lend itself to looser games.

“I think every team does [play better football in Ulster.

“The pressure of the local derbies and a team that you played three times prior to the championship, you’d played them three or four times the year before… That familiarity always makes it tighter and I suppose that’s what makes club championships magic.

“We’d never played Ballybay or Enniskillen in Ulster so they’re very new pairings and the stress the players go under, wondering who they’re gonna mark isn’t there the same so players can express themselves a wee bit better.

“I think that’s why whenever it does come into provincial championships the games are so much more open and better football.”

Meanwhile, Enniskillen Gaels boss Simon Bradley said that Derry boss Rory Gallagher’s involvement with the Fermanagh champions had been to take “three sessions”.

Gallagher lent a hand in preparing his fellow county men, who bore some of the hallmarks at the weekend of the way Derry had played in 2022.

“Rory would be very close with one of our backroom team, their children play together at the club, and Rory offered to come in and take a couple of sessions.

“You’re not gonna turn that down. He came in and took three sessions in total over the last seven or eight weeks. It’s just a fresh voice and a different perspective. We’ll take any help we can get,” said Bradley.

The Gaels’ manager said he would “talk to the club, see what’s happening in terms of management” and backed his players to find their way back to the provincial stage again in future.

“The players want to play at this level, I think that’s a big thing. It’s not a fluke that they’re here.

“They’ve worked hard through minor, they’ve worked hard the last two or three years and now they see they have to go again and work even harder to get to the level of the All-Ireland champions.”

GAA Football