All-Ireland final spot is just reward for Kilcoo, says Gilligan
Ballyboden St Enda's 0-11 Kilcoo 2-8
Everything comes to those who wait. Kilcoo may have had to reveal what can only be described as inordinate patience before they won their first Ulster Club title but now suddenly the world is their oyster.
On Sunday week this modest, homely outfit nestling in the heart of the Mournes will grace the biggest club stage of all when they confront Galway and Connacht standard bearers Corofin in an All-Ireland Club final in which the men from the west will be bidding to land their third successive national prize.
Eight Down titles in 11 years may have hinted at Kilcoo's domestic consistency but the acquisition of their first Ulster Club title and now their arrival in the All-Ireland final proclaims their all-consuming desire to become the new kings of club football.
Relief, emotion and indeed awe were etched on the faces of the Kilcoo players in the immediate aftermath of their epic All-Ireland semi-final victory over fancied Ballyboden St Enda's at the weekend in the murky environs of Kingspan Breffni.
Even the team's normally ebullient management duo of Mickey Moran and Conleith Gilligan struggled for words to do justice to their team's semi-final heroics.
Gilligan said: "Some of these players have been soldiering for many years and it's a great reward in particular for them to now be going into an All-Ireland final. This is just reward for a lot of hard graft.
"We will now be facing a Corofin side that will be bidding for three All-Ireland titles in a row so it does not get much harder than that. Still, it's where we want to be and now our whole focus will be on trying to become the All-Ireland Club champions."
Kilcoo's often uncontainable pace, their suffocating tenacity and unquenchable spirit underpinned their conquest of a Ballyboden side who, despite having lost the influential Michael Darragh Macauley and substitute Aran Waters to black cards, never relented in their bid to salvage the game, particularly in the frenetic closing stages.
A goal from Ryan Johnston in the 21st minute following a clever build-up in which Aidan Branagan and Conor Laverty had been involved helped to give Kilcoo their rather tenuous 1-5 to 0-6 interval cushion after the impressive Basquel brothers Colm and Ryan had lit the flame of hope for Ballyboden with points immediately prior to the break.
And when the Dublin champions began to ask more searching questions of the Ulster side at the start of the third quarter with the Basquel duo sharing another brace of points, a hint of unease appeared to infiltrate their play. But the ship was steadied in quite spectacular fashion in the 45th minute. A Dylan Ward effort came back off the woodwork but the ball was smartly gobbled up by Daryl Branagan and his superbly drilled goal triggered ecstasy among the Kilcoo faithful.
Ballyboden, though, had no intention of waving a white flag. Two points from Colm Basquel and another from his brother Ryan sustained their vibrant challenge as Kilcoo lived dangerously with the clock ticking down.
But points in breakaway raids from Shealan Johnston and Ryan McAvoy were to set the seal on the greatest victory in their club's history.
"It was tough going into those closing stages but we always knew that Ballyboden would come at us strongly in the second half in particular and we were prepared for that," said Gilligan.
"Obviously it's a great thrill to be looking forward to playing at Croke Park. It will be a very special occasion for the club but it's a massive test at the same time.
"This club has shown tremendous determination over a number of years and now they will bid to do themselves justice on the biggest stage."
Yes, it's certainly onwards and upwards for a team that thought they might have to be content with county honours only.
Now they are on the cusp of entering a sporting utopia, although a huge barrier has already been erected to their considerably upgraded ambitions in the shape of Corofin.
Kilcoo: M McCourt; N Branagan, R McAvoy 0-3 (2f), N McAvoy; E Branagan, Aaron Branagan, D Branagan 1-0; A Morgan 0-1, Aidan Branagan; D Ward, P Devlin 0-3, R Johnston 1-0; S Johnston 0-1, J Johnston, C Laverty. Subs: M Rooney for Morgan (h-t), J Clarke for D Branagan (BC 54), F McGreevy for Ward (63), A Morgan for Laverty (BC 65).
Ballyboden St Enda's: D Gogan; B Dwan, S Clayton, C Flaherty; K Kennedy 0-1, R McDaid, B Bobbett; M D Macauley, D O'Mahoney; D O'Reilly, C Basquel 0-3 (3f), A Flood; R McGarry, R Basquel 0-5, (4f), C Keaney 0-1. Subs: A Waters for Bobbett (35), T Hayes for McGarry (37), D Nelson for Waters (BC 39), W Egan 0-1 for Flood (46), J Holland for Macauley (BC 50), S O Maidin for O'Reilly (52)
Referee: Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary).