'Whenever you’re under pressure like that, you revert to habit': Late Rory Beggan free breaks Kilcoo hearts

Scotstown match-winner Rory Beggan is congratulated by Donal Morgan after Sunday's Ulster Club SFC victory over Kilcoo. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Scotstown match-winner Rory Beggan is congratulated by Donal Morgan after Sunday's Ulster Club SFC victory over Kilcoo. Picture by Seamus Loughran

AIB Ulster Club SFC quarter-final: Kilcoo (Down) 1-8 Scotstown (Monaghan) 0-12

THE make-or-break moments of any game have traditionally been Kilcoo’s domain.

This is when the lessons learned from past disappointments and those close-run things on the way to the top show themselves, a footballing intuition that cannot be taught or coached when the chips are down.

In Newry on Sunday, however, the Magpies were beaten at their own game when Scotstown built up a head of steam and couldn’t be stopped as they stormed into an Ulster semi-final showdown with Trillick on November 26.

Yet, with 14 minutes left to go, the Monaghan champions looked like a lost cause. After Paul Devlin had fired his penalty past Rory Beggan to put Kilcoo two up, Scotstown’s arm was tilting towards the table.

Shealan Johnston turned on the afterburners to push their lead to three before a lethal counter-attack saw Jack McCarron stripped of possession, and ended with Anthony Morgan slotting between the posts.

The chants of ‘UTM, UTM’ went up - we had all seen this movie before. But from that point on, the Magpies would manage just one more score, falling victim to a Scotstown siege that was crudely effective.

Long balls in had fallen flat all afternoon but, with the game slipping away, An Bhoth had little option but to trust their instincts and go for broke.

“Going back to our DNA as a club, we like to play direct football, we like to play with fellas inside who can win ball,” said manager David McCague.

“I suppose whenever you’re under pressure like that, you revert to habit, and if you saw any of our football in Monaghan, that’s the way we play. We want to get scores on the board, we want to get the ball into danger-zones.

“We’re lucky we have players who can win that ball under pressure, and kickers too. Clutch moments - those are when games are won and lost.”

Jack McCarron got the revival under way. Given little to work with otherwise, he managed to grab hold of Damien McArdle’s raking ball in before swivelling and curled over.

Rory Beggan was now a permanent fixture at midfield as Scotstown held their press with the clock ticking down. A McCarron free cut into the deficit again, 1-7 to 0-8, with two minutes left. On the strike of 60, he was involved again, going down under a challenge from Ryan McEvoy.

It looked harsh on the Kilcoo man, but Beggan wasn’t worried as he slotted between the uprights. The Monaghan goalkeeper epitomised Scotstown’s bold ambition by winning the next kick-out himself, then supplying the pass that saw Jason Carey level it up with a mark deep into added time.

After the dullness of an opening half that ended 0-4 apiece – with Scotstown’s shooting leaving plenty to be desired - this was the drama punters had paid good money for, Pairc Esler crackling with anticipation as afternoon turned to evening, the biting cold an utter irrelevance with all eyes glued to the action.

A Paul Devlin free stemmed the tide momentarily, edging Kilcoo back in front, but all the momentum belonged to their opponents. Kieran Hughes was the next of Scotstown’s old guard to stand up when most needed, claiming a mark from Donal Morgan’s pass, then sizing up the posts and going for broke from almost 45 metres.

Both hands raised in the air as he walked slowly backwards, Hughes had no doubt from the second it left his boot. And Scotstown weren’t done yet.

With McCarron piling the pressure on McEvoy from Niall Kane’s short kick-out, the Kilcoo full-back attempted an ambitious pass towards Ryan Johnston out on the wing. It needed to be perfect but it wasn’t, just catching leather on the outside of his boot, taking it into the waiting arms of Kieran Hughes near the sideline, with panic forcing Johnston to stop him in his tracks.

In most cases, what was left was a percentage kick to win the game. If there is such a thing as a good foul, this would normally into that category.

With Rory Beggan, though, the odds narrow that little bit more. He had sent two frees and another effort wide in the first half, opportunities much easier than this.

But when the stakes are raised, there is no other man in Ireland you would want standing over that ball. Probably 50 metres out, with the angle, he swept it over with the minimum of fuss, photographers queued up to capture the moment in all its glory as limbs and water bottles flew everywhere once the Scotstown bench broke ranks.

Having so often flattered to deceive on the provincial scene, despite a decade’s worth of dominance in Monaghan, this felt like a watershed moment, even for a side stacked with seasoned campaigners. Only time will tell if that is the case, or whether another false dawn awaits.

For Kilcoo, it is another winter wondering what might have been. Given their level of control heading towards the final quarter, this one will sting too.

“It’s disappointing when you don’t play to your potential,” said boss Karl Lacey, “it makes it harder to take. We weren’t happy with our first half performance, but Scotstown brought real aggression and real work-rate to it.

“We knew they had individual class too, they can step up on days like this and that’s what it came to in the end. In the second half we started to get into a rhythm, the penalty came at a good time, but Scotstown never dropped the heads.

“They kept at it and we found it fairly hard to get going then ourselves. We found it very difficult to stop the momentum that they had.”

Kilcoo: N Kane (0-1, free); R McEvoy, A Branagan; N Branagan; M Rooney (0-1), D Branagan (0-1), J Devlin; Aaron Morgan (0-1), Anthony Morgan (0-1); E Branagan (0-1), S Johnston (0-1), C Doherty; P Devlin (1-1, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free), C Laverty. Subs: S Og McCusker for J Devlin (43), C Rooney for Laverty (57)

Yellow card: R McEvoy (7)

Scotstown: R Beggan (0-3, 0-2 frees); B Boylan, D McArdle; R O’Toole; E Caulfield, D Morgan (0-1), J Hamill, C McCarthy (0-1); M Maguire, D Hughes, M McCarville; J Carey (0-2, 0-1 mark), S Carey (0-2, 0-1 free), K Hughes; J McCarron (0-2, 0-1 free). Subs: D Murray for Caulfield (46), M McPhillips for Hamill (52), R McKenna for Maguire (57), O Heaphey for J Carey (60+4)

Black card: R McKenna (60+2)

Yellow cards: E Caulfield (39), D Morgan (41)

Referee: N Mooney (Cavan)