All-Ireland Club SFC
In overcoming Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly Harps by a 16-point margin in the Ulster Club final, Kilcoo not only achieved back-to-back provincial titles but provided today’s All-Ireland Club Championship semi-final opponents St Finbarr’s with plenty of food for thought.
It’s a safe bet that the Cork and Munster champions have not as yet confronted a side that boasts the pace, versatility and killer instinct which are the chief components of the Kilcoo attacking machinery.
Perhaps their edge may have been somewhat blunted in the Ulster semi-final against Glen but then the Derry champions’ manager Malachy O’Rourke is acknowledged as being one of the shrewdest tacticians on the island and is renowned for doing his homework.
Today, when Kilcoo take the field at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise (3pm), they will look to their attack to discomfit the St Finbarr’s defence through a fusion of blistering speed, slick support play and clinical finishing, not to mention their relentless tackling.
The conveyor belt of talent within the Down club has been fully operational of late with Miceal Rooney, Shealin Johnston, Dylan Ward and Ryan McEvoy thrusting themselves into the limelight to complement the solid experience and craft of the long-serving Conor Laverty, Paul Devlin, Ceilum Doherty, Ryan Johnston, Niall Branagan, Daryl Branagan and Niall Kane.
Kilcoo’s counter-attacking mantra may have destroyed Derrygonnelly in the Ulster final but it can be taken for granted that St Finbarr’s will have absorbed lessons from their opponents’ expansive game mechanism on that occasion and planned accordingly for today.
Given that Kilcoo’s penchant for defending in numbers before launching lightning counter-attacks has paid handsome dividends to date, St Finbarr’s will need to keep their guard up from the word go.
Nine Down titles may have landed in Kilcoo’s lap over the course of the past decade but they had to wait until a fortnight ago before they finally managed to clinch back-to-back Ulster crowns. And having achieved that, the team is even more fired up as they prepare to launch their onslaught on what to date has proven a frustratingly elusive All-Ireland title.
With the line-up currently portraying a rich blend of youth and experience while at the same time harbouring a ferocious desire to sit on the All-Ireland throne, joint-skipper Laverty sees today’s mission as a forensic examination of their talents.
“We see each game as a learning curve for us. While we like to take the positives we also discover ways in which we can improve but we as players are fortunate that our management team are really good in helping us to learn from things that do not go to plan in games,” pointed out Laverty.
“St Finbarr’s have quality all over the field. They are a big, physically strong team and we believe that they will bring serious intensity to the game. I think we have to be prepared for a real battle because they have star quality players throughout their line-up.”
His assessment of St Finbarr’s is based on the team’s dynamic surge into the limelight over recent months with players such as inspirational skipper Ian Maguire and defenders Alan O’Connor, Billy Hennessy and Colm Scully catching the eye along with sharpshooters Steven Sherlock, Cillian Myers-Murray and Brian Hayes.
Skipper Maguire has gained considerable experience in the colours of Cork and his normally prodigious input in the middle third of the pitch can unsettle opponents, but Kilcoo’s Laverty remains unfazed.
“Our aim will be to keep our own house in order and adhere to the strategy outlined by our management,” he pointed out.
Kilcoo manager Mickey Moran has long since cemented his status within the sport as a tactician supreme and a passionate motivator. It’s these qualities that see him still fully immersed in the thrust for success after decades patrolling the touchline, notably in tandem with the late John Morrison as the pair wielded their magnetic influence when at the helm of operations in different counties.
If Moran espouses calm authority, then his right-hand man Conleith Gilligan’s ebullience, charm and wit lend a dimension to management in general that is much appreciated.
And it’s worth remembering that the affable Gilligan has been there and done that in terms of landing All-Ireland Club glory when he was a key cog in the Ballinderry team that were crowned All-Ireland Club champions 20 years ago. And today he will have a key input into overseeing Kilcoo’s efforts.
When joint-skipper Laverty addressed the assembled Kilcoo fans in the immediate aftermath of the Ulster Club final at the Athletic Grounds, he said: “We’ll see you all again in two weeks’ time.”
Should he have occasion to repeat that sentence after today’s game, Kilcoo will know they are just over an hour away from All-Ireland glory.