Kilmore's cup derby with Downpatrick to rekindle fond memories for McClure
As he looked up to the Seaview stands at the coach-loads of vocal and adoring supporters, Norman McClure wiped away a tear as the joyful realisation hit him that it couldn’t get any better than this.
The date: Christmas morning, 2009. The occasion: the Steel & Sons Cup final. The scoreline: Kilmore Rec 2 Downpatrick 0.
It’s a moment that will be forever etched on the mind of Mr McClure, who is in no doubt that this was by far the finest moment he has experienced in his 37-year association with Kilmore as a supporter and committee member.
If there is any danger of it escaping his memory, there is a photograph in his living room of the team lifting the Steel Cup aloft, just a few feet away from where the famous old trophy was proudly and carefully treasured for much of 2010.
And as Wednesday’s Border Cup semi-final approaches (Seaview, 7.30pm), Mr McClure admits it has brought thoughts of that unforgettable late December morning flooding back.
“It was an emotional day,” he admitted. “I think, when I saw everyone cheering and how much happiness it brought everybody, I was getting wee flashbacks to all the people who made Kilmore what it is today. People like the late Robert Adams, who really was ‘Mr Kilmore’ from no age.
“I can just about remember that night - we went back to the Corner Inn in Crossgar for a knees-up, and it was my duty to protect the cup that night. It was being passed around by everyone, but thankfully I kept it safe… and it stayed in my living room for a good few months after that.”
Since that watershed moment – a genuine rarity for any Amateur League team – Kilmore have gone on to become one of the most feared teams in local amateur football, and last season reached the quarter-final of the Irish Cup.
And it wasn’t just about making up the numbers for the Crossgar men, as they held Cliftonville to a goalless first half before eventually bowing out to a respectable 2-0 defeat.
Yet even though this run truly catapulted his team into the public eye, Mr McClure says the Steel Cup win couldn’t be topped.
The added factor of beating their local rivals surely added to that, and while the stage may not be just quite so grand this time, the Kilmore secretary knows it will be just as keenly contested.
He said: “It’s an interesting one, because the two Telford brothers were playing for us that day, but Andrew went back to Downpatrick, while Peter is fighting back from a knee injury. They also have Liam Graham, who scored our second goal in the Steel Cup final.
“Niall McCarthy got our first goal that day, and unfortunately he’ll miss this game through suspension. Other than that, and a couple of other players, it is a very different team, and I am expecting a close match. Downpatrick are going well.
“We won’t be looking any further than this game, but if we do get past them, it’ll be good that the final won’t be played at the Hen Run.”
Kilmore have a terrible record at Dundela’s Wilgar Park home, having lost the three Border finals they have played there since 2002. Indeed, it’s the only Amateur League competition they have yet to win.
For Downpatrick chairman Thomas Leckey, this Wednesday will understandably have much less nostalgic significance. In short, it will be all about getting the job done – and he is quietly confident that manager Kevin Trainor can do just that.
He said: “That final has no relevance to us now, because we have a different team now, a younger team. Probably the team that were more up for it on the day won it the last time, but I don’t think that will be a problem this time.
“You would have to say that Kilmore are slight favourites, because they are in the league above us, but I think it’s close to 50-50. We are doing well at the back, we are passing it well, and scoring plenty. I don’t see any real weak spots in the team at the moment.
“The club and committee are happy with the way things are going at the moment.”
Leckey, who has previously also served as secretary and treasurer, has now been with Downpatrick for a total of 12 years, and has seen some heady days.
During that time, they went on to win Division 1B, 1A, and the Premier Division, not to mention reaching that famous Steel Cup final in 2009, of course. There was also a narrow 2-1 loss to Portadown in the Irish Cup last 16 a year previously.
Relegation to 1A two seasons ago has focussed thoughts on league success, but Leckey insists that past success hasn’t created an unrealistic level of expectation to be met by the current crop.
The chairman stated: “There is no question of us putting any pressure on the manager. All we have been looking to do the last couple of years is to stay in 1A. If we can contend, all the better.
“It would be a massive thing for us to get to the final, because it would help us to attract players in the future, but we have a big hurdle in Downpatrick to get past first.”
The winners of Wednesday’s game will play Albert Foundry in the December 27 final, after Colin McIlwaine’s side beat holders Crumlin Star on penalties, having drawn 2-2 over normal and extra time.
Belfast Telegraph Digital