Kilcoo aiming to make strides on and off pitch
As the GAA in Ulster in particular absorbs the brickbats which have come its way in the wake of an unprecedented rash of violent incidents, Kilcoo are quietly laying their plans to rewrite the Down history books.
Yet while a seventh Senior Football Championship title on the trot would transport this homely club in the middle of the Mournes into a sporting heaven, their on-field progress is mirrored by developments off the field that further emphasise the club's role as the heartbeat of the locality.
An impressive new community hall has just been opened, last weekend 30 club members climbed Ben Nevis in Scotland to help raise funds for the Daisy Lodge Children's Cancer Fund in Newcastle, and a programme of under-age activities provides compelling evidence that a new generation of players is being more than adequately catered for.
As manager Paul McIver puts the finishing touches to his plans for Sunday's renewal of rivalry with Burren in a Championship final that is expected to attract a huge crowd to Pairc Esler, the work of building for the future continues apace with those who have brought so much honour to the club in recent years still very much involved.
Several of Kilcoo's much-decorated players, including Conor Lavery, Ryan Johnston, Darragh O'Hanlon, Jerome Johnston and Paul Devlin, have worn the Down jersey with distinction but their current focus is very much on further bolstering Kilcoo's reputation as the best club in Down both on and off the field.
While O'Hanlon will miss Sunday's game because of injury, the strength in depth which manager McIver has at his disposal is expected to help minimise the loss of a player who had been one of Down's most distinguished performers up until the time of his injury.
The fact that Kilcoo proved superior to Burren in the county finals of 2013, 2014 and last year will make the St Mary's side even more determined to come out on top this time around but that's a challenge for which Kilcoo are well primed, according to their sharpshooter Devlin. "Obviously Burren will be very keen to turn the tables on us but that's only to be expected," observed Devlin. "They have a lot of good players, there's a good management team and the club has a great tradition behind it, so irrespective of recent results between us we have to be on our toes no matter what happens."
Burren, who won the All-Ireland Club Championship in 1986 and 1988 and are under the tutelage of Down's 1991 All-Ireland-winning captain Paddy O'Rourke and 2002 Armagh All-Ireland winner Steven McDonnell, are powered by the experience of Kevin McKernan, Donal O'Hare, Declan Rooney and Conaill McGovern.
The manner in which they deflated fancied Mayobridge at the semi-final stage in winning by 5-12 to 2-11 has sent out a warning to Kilcoo that claiming title No.7 in the present era will be anything but a straightforward exercise.
Meanwhile, the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final replay between Ruairi Og, Cushendall and St John's will take place at Ballycastle on Sunday (3pm). It was a last-gasp point from Ciaran Johnston that earned St John's a draw (1-16 each) in the first meeting between the sides.
Cushendall have moved into the favourites' role for this second meeting but are likely to be fully tested again by a St John's side that have the bit between their teeth this year .
With champions Dunloy out of the picture,the door is now open for new title holders to be crowned and both Cushendall and St John's will be keen to represent the county in the Ulster Club Championship and possibly the All-Ireland series.
Elsewhere, the search for a new Antrim hurling manager is to be renewed now that Michael McShane, who was viewed as the front runner for the post, has withdrawn from the race.
McShane has been in charge of Slaughtneil of late and having guided the Derry side to their sixth county title, he is now focused on striving to recapture the Ulster Championship trophy.
Even though they have been to the fore for several years now, Slaughttneil have never managed to achieve an All-Ireland title success and that's something that remains a big spur for the side.
Meanwhile, Feargal McCormack, chairman of the Croke Park Audit Committee and a driving force behind the progressive St Peter's club in Warrenpoint, is predicting that a new era of philanthropy is about to engulf the GAA.
McCormack believes that the gesture of JP McManus in donating €3.2m to the grassroots of the GAA could prove the forerunner to other similar gestures in the future.
The money has already been distributed to clubs throughout the game and McCormack is of the opinion that other benefactors may decide to step in.
"Clubs throughout the country are really grateful for that they have received from JP and I honestly believe that more people might now feel inclined to pump money in the GAA," stated McCormack. "They know that such money would benefit communities and would help improve facilities and give fresh impetus to struggling clubs in particular."
• The Russell Gaelic Union, Downpatrick club has issued a statement condemning the violence which marred their team's game against Ballyholland on Sunday.
The statement reads: "The Committee of RGU condemn the scenes which took place at the ACFL Division 1 game between RGU Downpatrick and Ballyholland Harps on Sunday 7th October.
"We acknowledge that such behaviour has no place in our games.
"We will be investigating the events within our own club processes and will be fully co-operating with Down GAA CCC in any investigation being undertaken.
"We will not be responding to any media/social media speculation and will not be commenting further until all investigations are complete."