They may have gambled on danger when they clinched their latest Downs title last month, but when Kilcoo emerged in the heat in the second half of that Ulster Club Championship quarter-final against Ballybay at Clones there was only one winner.
On this occasion, Kilcoo’s experience, cohesion and finish stood them in good stead when their opponents were finally brought to their knees.
Enniskillen Gaels are now on the horizon in the semi-finals and with Kilcoo taking renewed solace from yesterday’s effort, a battle royal appears to be on the cards.
This competition was something completely different. It might have taken the Down champions some time before they went into overdrive – they led 8-0 to 2-1 at the break, Shane McGuinness’ penalty keeping his side’s challenge alive – but Kilcoo’s authority and confidence were never questioned after that placed .
With Paul Devlin, Jerome Johnston and Ryan McAvoy leading a points streak, Kilcoo slipped into their familiar rhythm and when the towering Ryan Johnston thundered home his opening goal just after the restart, Ballybay was at sea.
Their penchant for giving up possession when going forward saw Ballybay fall victim to searing counter-attacks, while Kilcoo converted possession into points with almost casual ease.
And when Miceal Rooney Kilcoo scored his second goal to put his side 2-12 to 1-6 up, Ballybay was at the exit door.
Paul Finlay, Drew Wylie and Eoin McKearney tried hard to keep their team in contention but with Kilcoo at their best their efforts proved in vain.
Dylan Ward may have received a red card, but that didn’t matter – Kilcoo knew at the time that their Ulster and All-Ireland titles were still within reach.
After Conor Laverty and skipper Ceilum Doherty took the crucial element of work rate to a whole new level, Kilcoo simply owned the ball in the closing stages.
No wonder Kilcoo manager Conleith Gilligan was even more animated than usual at the finish.
“Once we got the second goal we were able to move on from that stage but Ballybay played much of the same way as they did against Crossmaglen last week in the first half for much of the first half and we were prepared for that,” Gilligan revealed.
“When they scored their goal from a penalty it helped keep them in the game but when we regrouped at half-time and started from there it was a huge help.
“Did I think that game against Ballybay was going to go the way it did? Absolutely not.
“We knew they were going 15 or 16 points a game and had a number of goals in winning the Monaghan Championship so we had our guard.
“But they luckily didn’t gain momentum on that occasion.”
Kilcoo: N. Kane (0-1f); A Branagan (0-2), R McEvoy (0-2, 1f); N Branagan; M Rooney (1-0), D Branagan, Anthony Morgan; Dylan Ward, Aaron Morgan; C Doherty (0-2), R Johnston (1-1), S Johnston; P Devlin (0-4, 3f, 1’45), J Johnston (0-1m), C Laverty (0-1). Substitutes: T Fettes for Anthony Morgan (39); SÓg McCusker for Doherty (51); A Branagan for N Branagan (58); M Hynes for Rooney, C Rooney for R Johnston (both 60).
Ballybay: J Sniauksta; M Hannon, T McSkean, E McKearney (Captain); R Wylie, C Lennon (0-1), S Monaghan; D. Ward (0-1f), D. Wylie; C Galligan (0-1), S McGuinness (1-0, penalty), T Kerr (0-1, ’45); D.Caraher; P Finlay (0-2, 1f), C McGuinness. Subs: A Toner (0-1) for Caraher (HT); B. Wylie for Monaghan (50); P O’Neill for McKearney (56); S. McQuillan for Finlay, T. Keenan for D. Wylie (both 60).
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh).
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sport/gaa/kilcoo-turn-up-the-heat-on-ballybay-to-earn-their-last-four-slot-in-style-42141407.html Kilcoo turn up the heat on Ballybay to earn their last four slot in style