Magpies caught in Slaughtneil whirlwind

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Magpies caught in Slaughtneil whirlwind thumbnailThe Kilcoo players line out before Sunday’s Ulster Senior Football final clash with Slaughtneil at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh. Photographs: Brendan Monaghan.

THEY played their part in making history, but unfortunately for Kilcoo it wasn't to be the lead part.


Against Slaughtneil they proved they were capable of winning, but frustratingly they failed to execute where it mattered - in attack, writes Steve Malone.

Played in Armagh's Athletic Grounds, both teams served up a thriller. Before throw-in the pressure was palpable and when neutrals are feeling nervous, it is usually a fair indicator to expect a quality game.

To come so close, but to miss out probably feels worse than being blown out of the water, Kilcoo have proven that they have earned their place at the top table of Ulster.

And if this Kilcoo team can run a rampant Slaughtneil to the pin of their collar, without a star player such as the injured Jerome Johnston, then imagine what a force they can be with every player fully fit.

While ultimately the Magpies fell short of Ulster, they won't go into any more games in the near future as underdogs. They have proven too they are a quality footballing side, not simply a team of blood and thunder tactics and they won't be far away next year.

Of course, with teams under new management such as Benny Coulter's Mayobridge, Paddy O'Rourke's Burren and then the old rivalries of Clonduff, Castlewellan and Bryansford, all aiming to knock Kilcoo off their perch next season, the Magpies will be favourites to secure a sixth Down Club Championship in a row.

Played in front of a massive crowd, a five-minute horror show left Kilcoo four points adrift at half-time and it could have been much worse had Shane McGuigan not blazed over instead of under the bar.

As expected, the game was played at a blistering pace with all the intensity expected in an Ulster final, but it was the Derry side which displayed slightly more of a cutting edge and they were physically more powerful.

Kilcoo did play some neat football, but some of the forward action was below par, as Paul Devlin wasted three first half scoring opportunities while the player supposedly marking him, Brendan Rodgers, was the best player on the pitch.

The Magpies were two points down in as many minutes as Se McGuigan and Paul Bradley converted early frees.

Paul Devlin did reply with a converted free after Ryan Johnston was fouled, but the Derry side stayed ahead with Shane McGuigan popping over a point.

While Kilcoo weren't quite rattled, they were making unusual mistakes, such as poor passing, running over the sideline and giving away needless frees.

Ceilum Doherty, who has been exceptional since making his championship debut against Saval earlier this year, blasted his shot over the bar after a quick free from the brilliant Conor Laverty. Kilcoo made the same move against Burren, only then Doherty struck the net.

Ryan Johnston then raced through the Slaughtneil defence before levelling the score, but the Derry men were back on top less than 60 seconds later, after Rodgers pointed after running over 70 metres.

But after a rocky start Kilcoo eased into the game and Darragh O'Hanlon and Daryll Branagan responded to another Rogers point.

Paul Devlin took a knock to the face from Rodgers and his free dropped uncharacteristically short.

With 25 minutes gone the sides were tied on five points each, but it was the Derry men who almost ran away with the contest before the break. Christopher Brady and Chris McGuigan pointed before Shane McGuigan also lashed over the bar, with only 'keeper Niall Kane to beat.

And seconds later Kane's kick-out fell short and Cormac O'Doherty took an opportunistic pop between the posts and suddenly Kilcoo were four points down. And with a game so tight, it was massive.Half-time: Kilcoo 0-05 Slaughtniel 0-09.

Doherty's second point, another converted free from O'Hanlon and a fine point from Martin Devlin after a neat one-two with Laverty, left only a point between the sides with seven minutes of the half played.

It was the restart Kilcoo needed but they squandered a great goal chance or even a point when O'Hanlon made an intelligent solo run, but ultimately blazed his shot wide.

Then Laverty kicked wide and James McClean received a black card and Kilcoo's momentum dissipated.

Slaughtneil were held scoreless for 15 minutes of the opening half, which is no mean feat, but Shane McGuigan stretched their lead with a point.

Heading into the last 10 minutes, Kilcoo legs tired. Legs tend to go much quicker when chasing a game and this is an athletic side. Doherty's third point narrowed the gap once more. But Slaughtneil used all their experience and suffocated possession.

With three minutes of additional time announced, Eugene Branagan was denied a goal as he forced 'keeper Antoin McMullan a full-stretch save to prevent the ball hitting the bottom corner of the net.

Had it gone in, Kilcoo were champions, those are the margins, but the Derry champions held on and even finished with a converted free from Paul Brady.

It is disappointing for this Kilcoo team who have put in so much work, but at a time when many duel players are being forced to choose, it is refreshing to see a club such as Slaughtneil prove that all teams can flourish if given the right support. To be Ulster champions in football, hurling and camogie is historic and should be applauded.


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