Gilligan hails character as Kilcoo crank up the power
Kilcoo 1-11 O'Donovan Rossa 0-9
Kilcoo took a significant step forward in their bid to become the high kings of Ulster football when they turned in a powerhouse second-half performance to hurdle O'Donovan Rossa, Magherafelt at Pairc Esler, Newry yesterday.
In the end, the Down champions' greater overall experience, fluent teamwork and defensive alertness in the closing stages proved key elements in their win, although things might have been different had referee Joe McQuillan not disallowed a late Rossa goal for what he felt was a prior infringement - it looked a borderline call.
Simon McErlain was the player who drilled the ball to the Kilcoo net from a pass by Emmet McGuckin but his ecstasy turned to agony following McQuillan's decision.
Kilcoo assistant manager Conleith Gilligan had a modicum of sympathy for the opposition but was relieved to see his side march into the last-four.
"We were fortunate to get a goal ourselves and open up a five-point gap but credit to Magherafelt, they came back at us strongly and I suppose we were fortunate to survive that late goal scare," said Gilligan.
"I have to credit our boys with showing the level of spirit and commitment that they did throughout."
In a tempestuous, fragmented first half that was spliced with injury stoppages, Kilcoo had the edge in terms of possession while the visitors for their part conceded too much ground early on.
With Conor Laverty and Ryan Johnston pulling the strings, Kilcoo swept into a 0-3 to 0-0 lead with quick-fire points from Aaron Branagan, Ryan McAvoy and Darryl Branagan. And they looked capable of building on this until O'Donovan Rossa pulled players back to make what proved to be telling interceptions.
While the Derry champions closed off Kilcoo's attacking avenues, they piled forward with much more bite themselves. McGuckin, Cormac Murphy and Conor Kearns all hit the target but Kilcoo's experience came into play as they retained possession.
After Paul Devlin hoisted Kilcoo into the lead from a free, McGuckin plundered his second point before Devlin added his second to leave Kilcoo in front at half-time by 0-5 to 0-4.
But a Jerome Johnston goal in the 36th minute infused even more energy into Kilcoo and Eugene Branagan and Laverty each snapped up two points as their team went into a 1-10 to 0-7 lead. The Magherafelt side launched a late blitz but points from Murphy and Emmet Bradley were all they could muster and this only served to add to the frustration following the goal that wasn't.
Kilcoo: M McCourt; N Branagan, A Branagan, N McEvoy; A Morgan 0-1, A Branagan 0-1, M Rooney; D Branagan 0-1, R McEvoy 0-1; E Branagan 0-2, P Devlin 0-2 (2f), R Johnston; D Ward, J Johnston 1-1, C Laverty 0-2. Subs: J Clarke for R Johnston (45), S Johnston for Rooney (51).
Yellow card: D Branagan (29).
O'Donovan Rossa, Magherafelt: O Lynch; S McErlain, D O'Neill, G Lupari; C McCluskey, F Duffin, C Kearns 0-2; J Monaghan 0-1, D Heavron; P McLarnon, S Heavron 0-1, J Young; A McElhone, C Murphy 0-2, E McGuckin 0-3 (1f). Subs: M Lynch for McLarnon (40), D Martin for McElhone (41), C Rafferty for Young (44), P O'Kane for Kearns (Black Card 48), J Keenan for Lupari (49), M Higgins for s Heavron (51). Yellow card: McGuckin (28).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).