Wednesday 29 January 2020

Moran works magic as classy Kilcoo stop 'Boden in their tracks

Kilcoo 2-8 Ballyboden St Enda's 0-11, All-Ireland club SFC semi-final

Ryan Johnston of Kilcoo tries to escape the clutches of Ballyboden’s Alan Flood. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ryan Johnston of Kilcoo tries to escape the clutches of Ballyboden’s Alan Flood. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Just minutes after the final whistle blew on Saturday evening, the Kilcoo players were summoned to a huddle in a corner of the pitch, shepherded away from the mix of celebrants and mourners from the competing clubs in the centre of Kingspan Breffni Park.

Once the talking was done, they turned and headed towards the dressing-room, silently informing their own people they wouldn't be hanging around to receive any pats on the back.

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It's been 32 years since a club from Down (Burren) contested an All-Ireland club final, but Kilcoo have had aspirations of big things for some time. The club who went from 1937 to 2009 without winning a county championship. Since then, they've won eight of 11 and seven of the last eight.

It may be that the one they lost in 2018 forced them to take measures to transform from habitual county champions to All-Ireland finalists. Following that loss to Burren, some of the club's older players - many of whom were most influential against Ballyboden - contemplated retiring.

Instead, they resolved to go once more, approaching the much-travelled Mickey Moran about if he could take them to an elusive Ulster title. Here, they carried themselves like a team brimming with self-assurance.

Moran, who cuts a reclusive figure when it comes to media these days, has managed Derry, Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim and Donegal and clubs like Omagh, Kilrea, Faughanvale, Urris, Creggan and Slaughtneil. Yet an All-Ireland title with his current side, Kilcoo, against a Corofin team already considered by many to be the greatest in club football history would surely rank as his greatest managerial triumph.

Referee Derek O'Mahoney moves to avoid play as Ryan Basquel of Ballyboden St Enda's gathers possession ahead of Kilcoo's Aaron Branagan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Referee Derek O'Mahoney moves to avoid play as Ryan Basquel of Ballyboden St Enda's gathers possession ahead of Kilcoo's Aaron Branagan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"We've been watching them the last number of years and they are just an incredible team," observed Conleith Gilligan, Moran's selector and a fellow Derry native.

"For a club team to go with that level of consistency, look, we know the challenge that's there. But from that perspective, look, we're there. We'll savour this good feeling and be back down to earth knowing we are playing probably one of the greatest club teams that ever played the game."

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That Kilcoo deserved their win didn't take away from the fact that Ballyboden could very well have pulled off another remarkable act of salvation.

They pressed to the finish, including bringing on rookie Aussie Rules player (Brisbane Lions) James Madden, who was home for the festive season.

Dylan Ward of Kilcoo feels the pressure from Ballyboden's Shane Clayton. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Dylan Ward of Kilcoo feels the pressure from Ballyboden's Shane Clayton. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

In Dublin, 'Boden found themselves staring down perilous situations in the games against Na Fianna and St Jude's and won each time. In the Leinster final, they were almost stuffed and mounted on Éire Óg's wall before some late heroics saw them dramatically progress to a second provincial title.

And the thing that seemed to disappoint Anthony Rainbow in the immediate aftermath of his side's three-point loss wasn't that his team found themselves facing a bleak prognosis again, it was that this time, they didn't take the chances they created for salvation.

"They are scenarios we work on in training because we knew we'd be in those in the game," he admitted. "We put ourselves in that scenario in the last few minutes of this game but we just didn't work ourselves out of it as well as the last couple of games."

Five minutes into injury-time, Collie Basquel turned and skewed a low-percentage goal effort wide of Martin McCourt's post when a goal would have forced extra-time. That was their death-knell. But there were other, more likely opportunities that never came to pass.

Daryl Branagan celebrates scoring Kilcoo's second goal. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Daryl Branagan celebrates scoring Kilcoo's second goal. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Basquel over-hit a pass after Kilcoo were turned over coming from defence when a most sympathetic kick would have put Ballyboden in on goal with a three versus two overlap. Collectively, they also kicked four wides from frees, another from a '45 and one that dropped short.

"We had those same shots against Éire Óg," Rainbow noted, "our accuracy just wasn't there whereas it normally is. On reflection, that probably let us down a small bit at the end of the match."

The other area of immediate regret for Rainbow was the source of Kilcoo's goals. In the first half, Kieran Kennedy found himself isolated on the right wing with Dylan Ward and Aidan Branagan, who hunted the Ballyboden defender down and relieved him of the ball. It still took a brilliant pass from Aidan Branagan, a sumptuous flick from Conor Laverty and a sharp finish from Ryan Johnston to exact the maximum damage from the turnover, but the fact remains that Ballyboden had possession 22 seconds before the ball hit their net in the 22nd minute.

In the second half, Alan Flood was in an identical position, this time harassed by three Kilcoo players.

Their high press looked set to be rewarded with a point but Ward's effort came back off the post conveniently to Daryl Branagan, who fired home to open up a five-point lead in the 46th minute.

Ballyboden manager Anthony Rainbow shows his frustration late on. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ballyboden manager Anthony Rainbow shows his frustration late on. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"They really were crucial in them winning the game. We talked about that going into the game in terms of our turnovers, especially in the back line, not to give away the ball as much as possible," added Rainbow. There were other morsels of frustration. Michael Darragh Macauley's black card seemed the harshest of the five dished out by ref Derek O'Mahoney, and his exit had a nurturing effect on Kilcoo's confidence.

Scorers - Kilcoo: R Johnston, D Branagan 1-0 each; P Devlin (3f), R McEvoy (2f) 0-3 each; A Morgan, S Johnston 0-1 each. Ballyboden: R Basquel 0-5 (4f), C Basquel 0-3 (3f), C Keaney, K Kennedy, W Egan 0-1 each.

Kilcoo - M McCourt; N Branagan, Aaron Branagan, R McEvoy; Aidan Branagan, D Branagan, N McEvoy; D Ward, A Morgan; S Johnston, C Laverty, R Johnston; J Johnston, P Devlin, E Branagan. Subs: M Rooney for Morgan (h-t), J Clarke for D Branagan (BC, 54), F McGreevy for Ward (60+3), A Morgan for Laverty (BC, 60+5).

Ballyboden - D Gogan; C Flaherty, B Dwan, S Clayton; K Kennedy, R McDaid, B Bobbett; MD Macauley, D O'Mahony; D O'Reilly, C Basquel, A Flood; R McGarry, R Basquel, C Keaney. Subs: A Waters for Bobbett (36), T Hayes for McGarry (38), D Nelson for Waters (BC, 40), W Egan for Flood (47), J Holland for Macauley (BC, 51), J Madden for O'Reilly (53).

Ref - D O'Mahoney (Tipperary)

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