20 SEP 2020
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Majestic Magpies soar into final

16 September 2020

Kilcoo selector Conleith Gilligan paid tribute to beaten semi-final opponents Warrenpoint after the Magpies sailed into a decider with Carryduff following an easy nine-point victory at Pairc Esler on Sunday night.

Having beaten Kilcoo earlier in the competition, the Point then disposed of Burren and Clonduff, only to be overwhelmed by a superb performance from the reigning county and provincial champions at the weekend. 

It was a supreme display from a side well-versed in winning when it matters most and the margin of victory could have been even bigger had it not been for some superb goalkeeping by the Point’s Gary McMahon. 

“Warrenpoint have come such a hard way and in other years, all the teams they beat would have won you two championships. It was just unfortunate how it went, because they have been exceptional the whole way through the championship,” praised Gilligan. 

“Having to go to extra-time and penalties last week probably did take a wee bit out of them mentally and might have made it harder for them to get up for the game than us. 

“The Warrenpoint game [earlier in the competition] was nip and tuck and, on the night, they were probably better up front. They were more efficient in front of goal. We weren’t and it was something we had to improve and we have to continue to improve as we go on. 

“Tonight, I thought our efficiency was very good up front. We didn’t kick as many wides as we had in previous rounds and that was the difference. Coming up to half-time, Warrenpoint kicked three or four wides, and on other nights they would have kicked them over and it would have put them in a draw or maybe a point up at half-time. Once they had to start chasing the game, we got space in behind that we hadn’t got in previous games against them,” he admitted.  

Warrenpoint opened the scoring in the third minute after they had dominated possession in the early stages of the game. That eventually led to Ryan Magee collecting the ball down the left, before cutting in to point.

Dylan Ward did likewise for Kilcoo just three minutes later on the left after he was picked out by a sumptuous Crossfield ball from Jerome Johnston. Then, less than 60 seconds later, Kilcoo got in for their first goal chance of the game. 

Johnston found acres of space to burst clear down the left before cracking in a low drive that was superbly beaten out by Point keeper Gary McMahon, before the keeper got up to scramble the loose ball clear with help from Ryan McAleenan.

The ’Point were dealt a blow in the eleventh minute when Niall McCartan was, somewhat harshly it has to be said, black carded by Referee Con Reynolds for a foul on Conor Laverty. Goalkeeper Niall Kane came up to slot over the resultant free-kick to put Kilcoo 0-2 to 0-1 in front. 

However, just two minutes later, the Blues were boosted when Daryl Branagan hauled Ryan Mallon to the ground as he bore down on goal. Whilst he only received a yellow card for his troubles, Ross McGarry coolly sent Kane the wrong way from the spot to put his side in front. 

After Ceilum Doherty had seen his goal chance saved again by McMahon with Ryan Magee on hand to hack the ball away, Kilcoo did get back to within one when Ryan Johnston drove over form the left. But it was to be their only score during the period their opponents were down to 14 men.  

Seconds after the water break, Mallon pointed after linking up with McGarry before Eugene Branagan beat McMahon to the bouncing ball to palm over the bar as McCartan returned from his time in the sin-bin with the scores 1-2 to 0-4 in Warrenpoint’s favour. 

That was the time for Kilcoo to step it up a level and they hit the next three without reply to take a two-point lead as they half edge closer to its finish. 

Jerome Johnston got the first of two of those when he fired over from a tight angle on the left, before doing likewise from a slightly less acute part of the pitch after Paul Devlin had converted a 35-metre free. 

McGarry stopped the mini-rot for Warrenpoint by knocking over a looping free from 40 metres wide on the right flank, but still Kilcoo held the ascendancy and they almost got that first half goal they had been threatening, in stoppage time. 

Doherty used his pace to stream through once again, and although this time, his clever low sidefoot effort beat McMahon, Ciaran McCartan managed to get back to slide in and clear for a ’45, which was duly converted by Kane in the last action of the half, with the Magpies leading 0-8 to 1-3. 

Kilcoo brought on the vast experience of Aidan Branagan at the break to replace Paul Greenan and they scored their opening two points after the restart, both courtesy of Ryan McEvoy frees from the left.  

At that juncture, Warrenpoint needed to make a change and they made two with Aaron Magee and Jamie Grant coming on in place of Ruairi McCormack and Niall McCartan respectively. 

It seemed to give the St Peter’s side an instant lift as, following McGarry’s close-range free conversion, skipper Ryan Boyle powered through after receving an Eoghan Byrne pass to drive between the posts. While Ward notched his second of the night at the other end, McGarry got his first from play seconds later to bring it back to a two-point game, 0-11 to 1-6 as the tie really began to liven up. 

The noise got sufficiently louder on 41 minutes as the Magpies finally got the goal they had been on the hunt for. While it may had a stroke of luck in the finish, it was well-worked up to that point. 

Ryan Johnston kept hold of the ball well before feeding Aidan Branagan, and while McMahon blocked his shot, the ball rebounded off Branagan towards the empty net and Jerome Johnston applied the finishing touch on the line. 

As the chants of ‘UTM’ from the Kilcoo faithful echoes around Pairc Esler, Eugene Branagan (2) and the excellent Jerome Johnston added further points to give their side a 1-14 to 1-6 advantage with less than a quarter of an hour remaining. 

It was hard to see any signs of a Point comeback as they hoped to reset and revitalise during the second half water break. 

It was Kilcoo who struck first on the restart though when Paul Devlin curled over his second free of the match. 

However, Warrenpoint were given a glimmer of hope – only a small one - with nine minutes of normal time left when they struck their second goal. After Kane had made a smart save to deny Donagh McAleenan at his near post, McGarry dropped the resultant ’45 in, it was palmed down by Jamie Grant to fellow sub Alan Davidson who lashed home with his right foot.   

That made it 1-15 to 2-6, but still it was hard to see Kilcoo getting flustered, such was their exemplary work-rate and composure throughout. That composure did slip four minutes from the end of normal time when Paul Devlin was shown a black card for a bodycheck on Adam Lynch.

Kilcoo are masters of seeing a game out when it really matters and, if anything, they just rammed home their superiority in the final stages. 

Kane stroked over another ’45 after Ward had forced Ryan McAleenan over the end line before Ward, who had a fine game all night, casually stroked over his third of the night as the Magpies sat deep and played on the break for the final few moments.   

There was still time for Miceal Rooney to sweep over another score in stoppage time to make it 1-18 to 2-6 and round off the perfect night at the office for an efficient Magpies.  

Warrenpoint manager Niall McAleenan was philosophical, if still disappointed, after the final whistle. 

“I felt that we started off the game looking a bit nervy and tentative moving forward. At the start of the game it’s unlike us. We were making silly mistakes, we dropped a couple short, we kicked a couple wide and a lot of their early scores came from us losing the ball. You can’t do that against Kilcoo and, to be fair, in the first half they were probably unlucky that they didn’t have another couple of goals as well,” he said.   

“Saying that, when we went 4-2 up after Ross’ penalty, we could have maybe been further ahead at that stage too. But, on the night, we can have absolutely no complaints. On any given night, things don’t work out and tonight Kilcoo were full value for their win. I think it ended up nine points. If someone was to say to me are Kilcoo nine points better than this Warrenpoint team, I don’t think so. But on tonight’s performance they were. 

“Things happen in games and fair play to Kilcoo, they thoroughly deserved their victory and it could have even been by more,” he added.   

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