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Magpies soar the heights under Moran

All-Ireland Semi Final Kilcoo 2-8 Ballyboden 0-11

UTM reverberated all around Kingspan Breffni Park as the Kilcoo “Magpies” soared highest against all the odds to reach the Promised Land.

Dublin and Leinster finest Ballyboden St Enda’s were defeated2-8 to 0-11 with Ryan Johnston and Daryl Branagan goals proving crucial for the Down and Ulster champions. There will be a statue of Mickey Moran erected in Kilcoo if having reached the Promised land, an All-Ireland Final at Croke Park, if Kilcoo bring home the Holy Grail the Andy Merrigan Cup.

Moran displayed all his tactical genius in devising the game plan to beat their Dublin rivals and is now faced with the task of halting the Corofin juggernaut that is steaming down the track looking for a never achieved Three-in -a row, All-Ireland Club Title Haul. A winning manager at all levels of the game.

All hail Kilcoo, the Down and Ulster champions are sixty minutes from an All-Ireland title as an incredible season for the club reaches its unimaginable climax. 

Kilcoo are Down and Ulster Championship winners, Down and Ulster League winners and now an hour’s football away from the ultimate prize the Andy Merrigan Cup, an honour so rare only Burren have taken it back to the Mourne county and that was over 30 years ago.

On Sunday 19th January at Croke Park Kilcoo will play Corofin the Galway and Connacht champions, the reigning All Ireland champions, bidding for a never before achieved 3 in a row of All-Ireland titles; the challenge doesn’t come any bigger but that’s just how Kilcoo like it.

Ballyboden, the biggest club in Ireland with over 100 teams and All Ireland champions as recently as 2016 were swept away by the sheer belief, determination and organisation of the Mourne men and even that doesn’t do Kilcoo justice, for the quality they have increasingly displayed on each step of this championship journey can often be overlooked amid admiration for their team ethic. 

Kilcoo are the quintessential modern GAA football team, positions in a programme mean nothing, numbers on backs of jerseys mean nothing, it is the crest on the front that matters. Players are left out but come in and do a job, players are forward minded one day but man markers the next, in possession everyone is an attacker, out of possession everyone is a defender and in Mickey Moran they have the services of the man with the midas touch, the manager who brings the best out of the underdog whatever club, whatever county, in whatever province he goes and so he has proved again. Kilcoo lost their Championship and League titles last season, this season under Moran they have regained everything in the county and added two provincial titles, there’s nothing left for them to win bar the big one.

On a dirty day in Cavan with blustery rain overhead and a slippery sod underfoot Kilcoo began with whatever advantage the elements brought and right from the throw-in they were on the attack but the long ball in eluded a heavily marked Conor Laverty. 

Jerome Johnston kicked a speculative effort wide and a too cautious Aaron Morgan dropped one short into Darragh Gogan in the Dublin nets. 

Five minutes in Paul Devlin opened the scoring following good play from Conor Laverty and Niall Devlin, though was wide off another opportunity. All these misses could come back to haunt the Ulster champions and it certainly looked that way in the tenth minute when Ryan Basquel levelled from a ‘Boden free, then Conal Keaney lifted his shot over from close range with a man available off his shoulder. 

Kilcoo were being pressed back but great defending from Aidan Branagan and Niall Devlin kept Ballyboden to the minimum before a marvellous piece of innovation from Ryan Johnston was halted by a foul and Ryan McEvoy advanced to slot the ball over the bar and tie the match. 

Kilcoo did not contest the kick out and Ballyboden went straight up the wing for Ryan Basquel to restore their one point lead before, in the sixteenth minute, Paul Devlin squared the scores again from a free.

The decisive score of the half came in the twenty first minute when Dylan Ward turned over possession and Conor Laverty got in on the action with a block down which fell to Aidan Branagan who squared the ball to Ryan Johnston who took it in his stride and blasted past Darragh Gogan for the opening goal. 

Ballyboden claimed the vital next score, a twice taken free, converted at the second attempt but replies from Ryan McEvoy and Aaron Morgan stretched Kilcoo double scores ahead at 1-5 to 0-4 going into added time.

A bit like the Ulster Final, Kilcoo failed to take the commanding position their play merited into the break conceding two frees converted by the Basquel brothers in the four added minutes played at the end of the half.

On the restart, both teams took time to adapt to the conditions and early chances were missed; Dylan Ward crossed but Daryl Branagan just couldn’t get a touch and then Jerome Johnston delivered the pass but again just agonisingly ahead of a by now more adventurous Daryl Branagan.

Twelve minutes into the second half Paul Devlin split the posts with a free and then fortune favoured the brave when Daryl Branagan was quickest to react once Dylan Ward’s fisted effort had come down off the post, and he burst through to slam an unstoppable shot into the Dublin net and with less than a quarter hour to play Kilcoo were five ahead.

Ryan Basquel scored another free but Kilcoo were punching holes in the ‘Boden defence and a peach of a pass from Aaron Branagan found Jerome Johnston on the penalty spot but Darragh Gogan was out like lightening on to his boot to turn the shot away.

Dublin talisman Michael Darragh McAuley received a petulant Black Card when his team needed him most whereas Kilcoo took Black Cards for the team. Goal hero Daryl Branagan went first and from the free Colm Basquel pointed, he added another going into the last five minutes but just as Kilcoo were creaking Conor Laverty won a ball he had no right to and combined with Justin Clarke and Shealan Johnstone before the latter stretched them to the safety of a goal lead with his first point. 

Warren Egan replied but Ballyboden, now just two in arrears, did not play like a team that was here before and went in search of a goal they didn’t need and found first Aidan Branagan and then Niall McEvoy impenetrable in the Kilcoo defence. Ryan Basquel missed a simple free as ‘Boden kicked away some choice possession. 

Three minutes into the four added minutes announced, Kilcoo put together an incredible move begun by Conor Laverty on his own 13 metre line and finished 13 passes later by Ryan McEvoy with a point.  Laverty to Aaron Branagan to Ryan Johnston back to Laverty to Niall Branagan, to Laverty to Ryan Johnston to Eugene Branagan to Niall McEvoy to Miceal Rooney to Laverty to Ryan McEvoy to Justin Clarke to Ryan McEvoy and over the bar. To have the fitness and confidence to produce such a passage of play and finish it with a score at that stage of the match given the conditions they had just played through signalled Kilcoo as a truly special team.

Ballyboden had one last opportunity to force extra time but first Laverty then Ryan McEvoy took Black Cards as their team got set up for the onslaught and they confidently withstood the challenge to reach the All Ireland Final. A memorable result for a remarkable team.

Kilcoo: Martin McCourt, Niall Branagan, Ryan McEvoy 0-3 (2f), Aaron Branagan, Eugene Branagan, Aidan Branagan, Niall McEvoy, Daryl Branagan 1-0, Aaron Morgan 0-1, Dylan Ward, Paul Devlin 0-3 (2f), Ryan Johnston 1-0, Jerome Johnston, Conor Laverty, Shealan Johnston 0-1.

Subs: Miceal Rooney, Justin Clarke, Felim McGreevy, Anthony Morgan, Paul Greenan.

Ballyboden: Darragh Gogan; Bob Dwan, Shane Clayton, Cathal Flaherty; Kieran Kennedy 0-1, Robbie McDaid, Brian Bobbett; Michael Darragh Macauley, Declan O’Mahoney; Darren O’Reilly, Colm Basquel 0-3 (3f), Alan Flood; Ross McGarry, Ryan Basquel 0-5 (4f), Conal Keaney 0-1.

Subs: Aran Waters, Tom Hayes, Darragh Nelson, Warren Egan, 0-1 James Holland, Seamus O Maidín. 

Conor Laverty ‘Our backs were against the wall there at the end, but we showed great character. It’s one more step towards a dream that every footballer in Ireland has’

Daryl Branagan ‘Unbelievable, semi-finals are there to be won, a massive occasion to get a day out at Croke Park; for years we couldn’t get over the line in Ulster, but Mickey brings that something extra. We’ll keep the heads down for next couple of weeks. I’m so happy, getting a black card there I wouldn’t be allowed home if we hadn’t won. We knew if we kept out the goals, we wouldn’t be a million miles away’