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Kilcoo relish underdogs tag in bid for glory: Ward


Final fling: Kilcoo dynamo Dylan Ward is leading a new crop of talented youngsters
Final fling: Kilcoo dynamo Dylan Ward is leading a new crop of talented youngsters
John Campbell

John Campbell

Eight Down titles won over the course of an 11-year spell might suggest that Kilcoo are a team positively groaning under the weight of considerable experience, but that is not quite the case.

Rather, it's a marked willingness to introduce new blood from time to time, to amend strategy on an ongoing basis and to maximise individual versatility that have helped to bring the side to the cusp of All-Ireland title glory.

Only a few months ago, names such as Martin McCourt, Ryan McEvoy, Aaron Morgan, Shealan Johnston and Dylan Ward were virtually unknown outside the Mourne County.

Tomorrow night, this immensely talented quartet, in tandem with the rest of the squad, will be putting the finishing touches to preparations for Sunday's eagerly-awaited Croke Park showdown with current All-Ireland title holders Corofin.

Ward, who wears the No.10 shirt but tends to pop up just about everywhere, epitomises the tenacity of the new kids on the block through his vibrant spirit, all-consuming passion and refreshing candour.

"Everyone loves being the underdogs and that's a role to which we have become accustomed," said Ward.

"It doesn't bother us. We weren't expected to win the Ulster final and the All-Ireland semi-final, but our manager Mickey Moran and his assistant Conleith Gilligan had their homework done and that proved crucial.

"They have their homework done, too, in relation to Corofin, and it's now up to us as players to carry out their game plan to the best of our ability."

The brash vigour of Kilcoo's more recent recruits has, happily in one sense, tended to mask the fact that the club has achieved its most successful period without two stalwarts.

Darragh O'Hanlon, son of club chairman Terry and a seasoned campaigner in the red and black of Down, and the emerging Ceilum Doherty, who has also earned his Mourne spurs, have had to sit out the team's odyssey because of long-term injuries.

Yet they are very much part of the drive for what would be unimagined glory for a team that could have been forgiven for thinking that county honours were to form the pinnacle of success.

"We're all in this together," enthused Ward. "Although we're going into an All-Ireland final, we are just trying to keep things as normal as possible. Mickey and Conleith are telling us to keep our entire focus on the match and not to let ourselves be distracted."

The Down and Ulster champions will certainly need to maintain the highest levels of concentration on Sunday. In Corofin they will be meeting players which have won seven Galway titles on the bounce, possess an overall wealth of experience and in Kevin O'Brien boast a manager whose technical expertise and down to earth rhetoric continue to prove invaluable.

Contrary to public belief, Corofin don't run themselves into the ground in training, with sessions often lasting no more than an hour.

And, like most other sides, they have players on whom considerable demands are made by their university teams, particularly at this time of the year.

The reigning All-Ireland champions will parade two of the best forwards in the game in Ian Burke and Liam Silke, a 38-year-old defender in Kieran Fitzgerald who seems to get better with age, 35-year-old Gary Sice, who is still playing as well as he did in over a decade in Galway's colours, and Michael Farragher, Ronan Steede and Daithi Burke, whose combined talents add style and lustre to the team.

Add to this personnel mix an overall inherent self-belief, enviable tradition and an ostensible hunger to remain on the All-Ireland throne and it can quickly be deducted that Kilcoo will be entering the lion's den.

Yet listen to Ward and you will soon be convinced that there is nowhere he and his colleagues would rather find themselves than in Croke Park on Sunday.

"We have been taking each game as it has come along. Some of these Kilcoo players have been putting their shoulder to the wheel for several years now and, while we all naturally want to share in some success, I know that it would be particularly satisfying for those who have given so much to the club," added Ward.

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