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Declan Bogue: Laverty the architect as Kilcoo edge closer to ending jinx

Kilcoo 1-8 Derrygonnelly 0-9

Net gains: Kilcoo's Aaron Branagan celebrates scoring the only goal in his side's victory over Derrygonnelly
Net gains: Kilcoo's Aaron Branagan celebrates scoring the only goal in his side's victory over Derrygonnelly
No way through: Derrygonnelly's Jack Kelly is held up by Kilcoo duo Jerome Johnston and Conor Laverty at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh
Mickey Moran
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Kilcoo have earned a third attempt at clinching an elusive Ulster title after they saw off the gamest challenge of all from Derrygonnelly.

They will play Naomh Conaill on Sunday, December 1 when a new name will be etched on the Seamus McFerran Cup.

In the Ulster Club Championship, you need one or two players who are prepared to do something unexpected.

Kilcoo had a few players of that nature here, but most crucially they had Conor Laverty. The sprightly captain is one of the brightest coaches around, something noted by new Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney, who was in attendance.

At a coaching clinic in Newry on Saturday, Laverty hosted a session for more than 300 coaches. His message was not, in the common language, to take your points and the goals will come. Rather, it was take your points when the goal is not on.

Laverty had been marginalised here by a superb marking job by Mickey Jones, but when Harps defender Tiernan Daly fouled Ryan Johnston, referee Paudie Hughes signalled for the ball to be moved in after some backchat.

Laverty went another way, and took a quick free to the unmarked Anthony Morgan, who carried it a few steps before dishing off to Aaron Branagan to find the net.

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How important was that goal? In the context of this game, it meant everything.

Derrygonnelly had weathered a ropey first half and had pulled themselves level by the 37th minute through sheer heart and endeavour. The goal came two minutes later and while it didn't finish them altogether, it made their ascent steep once again.

What the Fermanagh champions will rue is the finer points of their finishing. They had six wides in the second half to Kilcoo's zero.

On 57 minutes, they passed up a tricky free for Conall Jones. Undeterred, they gobbled up the next three points, Ryan Jones coming into the game and stamping his personality on it.

Kilcoo were always going to get in behind with the pace and the tidiness of their play. In the closing minutes, they were able to make use of Ryan Johnston's pace. He burned up the stand flank, cut inside and fisted over.

Boy, did Derrygonnelly have the chances. In the seventh minute, they worked a move through Lee Jones and Stephen McGullion to give the impressive Shane McGullion a sight of goal. He struck it with fierce force but it was from a distance and Kilcoo goalkeeper Martin McCourt did brilliantly to acrobatically tip it around the post with a strong right hand.

Altogether, they had 21 chances. Kilcoo had 14. No wonder their co-manager Brendan Rasdale was the picture of devastation afterwards.

"I'm absolutely devastated," he said, holding back a dam of emotion. "I imagine it is a game that we will all have regrets about for a long time.

"My heart is on the floor. But I suppose if you are trying to be dispassionate about it, you have to say our lads found a very high level of performance. There are so many areas of our performance that clicked.

"But it didn't quite all come together. To win against the likes of Kilcoo, absolutely everything has to go right for you on the day. And it obviously didn't."

When Kilcoo come to do their video review, they will find plenty to chew over. Derrygonnelly presented a different type of puzzle with their size all over the park but they will be better suited physically to Naomh Conaill in the final.

Their assistant manager, Conleith Gilligan, said: "For long periods we didn't play the way we'd want to play, we didn't perform the way we'd want to perform, but sometimes games go like that and you can't dictate the terms.

"The way we expected Derrygonnelly to go, we knew it was going to be that kind of game. We just knew we had to grind it out and be there at the end, the semi-final was just one we had to take and thankfully towards the end we held on."

He instantly batted back any suggestions that they will enter the final as favourites.

"I don't know, that's for somebody else to decide. We've taken it a game at a time, that's all we've done. It was getting the Down Championship back for them and then taking Magherafelt, then Derrygonnelly. It will be no different the next day and if that's good enough, great," he said.

The weight of expectation will nonetheless fall on the Down men. If they have one thing different this year, it is that they have the Zen-like Mickey Moran (above) on their sideline who seems to have brought an added assurance to their efforts.

We wait and see.

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