HAVING successfully retained their Down title, Kilcoo begin the defence of their Ulster and All-Ireland crowns with a provincial quarter final tie against Ballybay Pearse’s this Sunday.
The Monaghan champions come into the game with momentum behind them having dispatched Crossmaglen last weekend.
Their performance in the Athletic Grounds was superb, filled with hunger, determination, desire and a refusal to come second. These are all trademarks associated with Kilcoo and it is perhaps unsurprising to see them mimicked by the Farney side when you consider that Jerome Johnston (Snr) has been at the helm there alongside Mark Doran for the past two years. Sunday will be a strange day for Jerome Snr as the side he has managed for two seasons faces his three sons in the black and white of his beloved Kilcoo. So strong are the ties that it seems certain he won’t patrol the side lines in Clones and Mark Doran will instead take sole charge for this game. Subplots aside, this promises to be a gargantuan tussle. The win over Crossmaglen may have been Ballybay’s first ever success in an Ulster Senior Club game but this is a side packed with experience.
Drew Wylie and Dessie Ward have been round the block, while 39-yearold Paul Finlay appeared as sharp as ever, earning a man of the match award against Cross. He fired over four points while simultaneously firing a warning to Kilcoo that they will need to be on their game to beat a hungry Ballybay side. Shane McGuinness will also need watching in attack though Kilcoo may look at Crossmaglen’s goal scored by Rian O’Neill and feel that Ballybay’s goalkeeper, Julius Sniauksta, a converted outfielder could be a weakness. O’Neill’s goal looked a thunderbolt in live time but replays showed the ‘keeper probably should have done better and with potentially deadly finishers in the Kilcoo forward line they could target a couple of threepointers.
The Magpies haven’t hit their fluid beat yet this season but they’ve still done enough any time they needed to. Paul Devlin is as accurate as ever and though Jerome Johnston hasn’t been firing on all cylinders, his brother Ryan has taken up some of the scoring mantle. Daryl Branagan continues to be central to the defensive success while at full back Ryan McEvoy has arguably been their player of the year so far. Dylan Ward has been immense in the middle having returned from America. Seizing control of Sunday’s game in that sector will be uppermost in the thoughts of Conleith Gilligan and Richard Thornton as they prepare their side for this game. The tireless work ethic of Ceilum Doherty and Miceal Rooney is an essential piece of the solution to Kilcoo’s success because if they allow themselves to be outworked as Crossmaglen did, then Ballybay will punish them. This will be a tight game.
The experience of Kilcoo could be key but, equally, the energy and exuberance of a Ballybay side hungry for success on the provincial stage may prove difficult to quell. For both sides defensive discipline is a high priority with top rated free takers present among both playing squads. With the game in the melting pot in the final ten minutes Kilcoo’s know-how and ability to grind out decisive victories could come to the fore and just about see them over the line but this is certain to be their biggest test of 2022 so far.