Kilcoo goals dethrone Cross

November 11, 2013

● Ulster Club Replay Kilcoo (Down) 3-10 Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) 1-08 (AET)

Two goals from Ryan Johnston and Paul Devlin in the first period of extra-time, were the decisive blows delivered by Down champions Kilcoo as they inflicted a first Ulster Club defeat on the Armagh Kingpins since they lost to Bellaghy back in 2005.

Like a week ago Kilcoo looked as if they had thrown away their chance in normal time during which they had outplayed Cross but saw the Rangers take the lead for the first time in the match in the opening minute of extra-time. But the same script from last week at Pairc Eslar would take a different twist as Kilcoo followed up their goal from Johnston with a second for Devlin, added a point from last week’s hero Darragh O’Hanlon to open up a 3-8 to 1-8 lead at the end of the first period of extra-time. This time Kilcoo were not going to gift Cross another chance to pull it out of the fire against all the odds. A red card for Stephen Kernan (who was on the receiving end when Darly Branagan picked up a very costly red 12 minutes into the second half with his team leading 1-7 to 0-3) at the start of the second period of extra-time was followed by a second yellow for Paul McKeown and the writing was on the wall for the gallant holders who were outscored 2-3 to 0-1 having got out of jail to force the unrewarding added 20 minutes.

The Magpies must be commended as they not alone recovered from losing a seven point lead but were able to put aside the disappointment of missing two very scorable chances at the death of normal time with 14 men and Cross having levelled the game. The resilience of the challengers forced to start without the very influential pair of Anthony Devlin and Jerome Johnston, although Johnston came on late to play a key role in his teams success. Cross made one alteration to their side with Conor O’Neill starting in place of Paul Og Grant for the side that started a week ago.

But it was Kilcoo manager Jim McCorry who made the telling switches like moving full-back Niall McEvoy to midfield where his general speed helped him pick up an awful lot of loose ball in a sector dominated by Cross a week ago after the opening 20 minutes. Stephen Kernan and Johnny Hanratty did not get on top like in Newry. McCorry also got big contributions from the players brought off the bench Niall Morgan, James McClean and Johnston.

Last week had whetted the appetite as a record Ulster Club Championship crowd packed into the Athletic Grounds on a glorious afternoon for football.  Kilcoo were fastest out of the blocks and their ploy of low ball delivery to their full forward Conor Laverty was to be their prize asset for the day. Although the Down senior player failed to raise a flag himself he was at the fulcrum of nearly all 13 raised by his teammates in a Man of the Match performance. Two minutes into the game Darragh O’Hanlon opened the scoring from a free following a foul on Paul Greenan and three minutes later O’Hanlon combined with fellow half-back Gerard McEvoy who doubled the lead. Both teams posted a few very bad wides before Tony Kernan, from a free following a foul on Kyle Carragher opened the champions account. A second O’Hanlon free stretched the lead to 3-1 before a super score from near the sideline from Paul Devlin left it 4-1 on twenty-one minutes. Three minutes from the short whistle a second Tony Kernan free left it double scores but Kilcoo, following good work by Laverty to set up Ryan Johnston for their fifth and last point of a half that ended 5-2. With no score from play for Cross it was easy to see where their problems lay but the holders would have gone to the break glad to be only a green flag behind following a dismal opening half.

Kilcoo skipper walked a very thin line picking up a yellow card for a challenge on Mickey McNamee which on another day might have been red. Cross exerted some pressure with their first forceful cohesive move which saw Callum Cumiskey skip inside the Kilcoo defence to fist a point. Kilcoo reply was instant as O’Hanlon pointed following a foul on Laverty 6-3 and Cross introduced Mel Boyce and Paul Og Grant for McNamee and O’Neill. That man Laverty was fouled by Stephen Kernan for a penalty which was smartly dispatched past Paul Hearty by Paul Devlin. Kilcoo looked to have put the game to bed by the 40th minute as Devlin’s 38th-minute goal was followed by a James McClean point to increase their lead to seven.

But the dismissal of Daryl Branagan threw the champions a lifeline they grabbed with both hands. Punch drunk and on the ropes but like true champions Cross were not just ready to throw-in the towel.  Tony Kernan converted a free following a foul on Hanratty. Blood sub Aaron Cunningham marked his permanent role in place of Brennan with a point and a minute later a second Cumiskey point had Rangers trailing by 1-7 to 1-6 entering the last ten minutes. Urgency was all on Rangers side as they gathered a head of steam brought on by their numerical supremacy. Forwards Cumiskey and Carragher combined with new inside line attacker Tony Kernan whose goal attempt deflected off a defender on route to the net. The deficit was down to the minimum and the champions looking to reel in their challengers who were all over the show having lost their shape and composure. Unbelievably with 7 minutes remaining the sides were level with Martin Aherne repeating what he did the previous week notching the equaliser for 1-7 apiece. Kilcoo withdrew their captain replaced by Sean Devlin as Ranger Stephen Kernan was wide from a free. McCorry gambled on Johnston in the final 5 minutes and it looked as if it was going to pay dividends when he was fouled. Hero O’Hanlon eyed up the winner from the free but missed and two minutes into added time Johnston narrowly missed for the late winner.

Twenty more minutes of this absorbing contest would be needed to find a winner. At this juncture a week ago the consensus of opinions favoured the champions and it probably was the same this time as the holders had certainly got out of jail. Kilcoo restored to 15 responded in terrific fashion at going behind for the very first time and deservingly ended Rangers 22 match Ulster run and their dreams of a fourth Ulster title in a row. Over the two games the Magpies will have learned a lot about themselves in the way they responded to adversity at varying times but most importantly their belief that they could do the job never wavered and they were rewarded in the end. The champions Cross have lost nothing in defeat as many a team given their problems all year might not have regained their County title down and out in both games Rangers renowned ‘we are never beaten till the final whistle’ brought them an extra 40 minutes and a learning curve from which their young new blood can only prosper and learn from.

Kilcoo: Stephen Kane; Niall Branagan, Aidan Branagan, Daryl Branagan; Darragh O’Hanlon 0-4, Sean O’Hanlon, Gerard McEvoy 0-1; Niall McEvoy 0-1, Paul Greenan; Paul Devlin 2-2, James McClean 0-1, Ryan Johnston 1-1; Niall Morgan, Conor Laverty, Gary McEvoy.

Subs Jerome Johnston, Felim McGreevy, Seamus Devlin, Sean Devlin, Martin Devlin.

Crossmaglen Rangers: Paul Hearty; Paul Hughes, Paul McKeown, Stephen Finnegan;

Michael McNamee, Gerard Carragher, Danny O’Callaghan; Johnny Hanratty, Tony Kernan 1-3; Conor O’Neill, Stephen Kernan, Martin Aherne 0-1; Kyle Brennan, Kyle Carragher 0-1, Calum Cumiskey 0-2.

Subs: Aaron Cunningham 0-1, Mel Boyce, Paul Og Grant, Kevin McShane