St Gall's 0-10 Kilcoo 1-09: How the mighty have fallen! St Gall’s, proud All-Ireland club champions two years ago and holders of the Antrim senior football crown on 11 occasions in the past 12 years, were brought to their knees in an enthralling Ulster club semi-final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh.
Not only did Down champions Kilcoo produce a seismic shock, they did so in the most dramatic manner triumphing as they did in a nerve-tingling finish having lost a player during the last quarter at a stage when they trailed their illustrious opponents by three points, 0-8 to 0-5.
But Jim McCorry’s side revealed character, courage and skill above and beyond the call of duty to chisel out the sweetest victory in the club’s entire history.
Little wonder then that former Armagh player and manager McCorry was ecstatic at the end.
“The effort that these lads put in was just unbelievable,” said McCorry. “There is just something special about them when their backs are to the wall. They showed immense pride and commitment and I was delighted with the response when we went a man down.
“Our substitutes too made a huge contribution and our stamina stood us in good stead in that frenetic last phase of the game.”
Fesity, combative and hardworking throughout, Kilcoo punched above their weight for a side unaccustomed to the pressures and intensity of the penultimate stages of the province’s premier club competition.
And indeed St Gall’s played with their customary flair and panache — but only in spasms.
Kilcoo’s ferocious tackling, relentless support play and unselfishness underpinned a display that, if further bolstered by McCorry’s assertion that “we have much more left in the tank”, could pose major problems for Crossmaglen Rangers in the decider.
For the moment, though, Kilcoo can revel in their new-found status as an elite club rather than gate-crashers at the top table.
Karl Stewart reminded McCorry’s men just how difficult it can be at the cutting edge of the Ulster series by sweeping over three points to ease his St Gall’s into a 0-4 to 0-3 lead at half-way, Darragh O’Hanlon, Paul Devlin and Conor Laverty helping sustain Kilcoo’s challenge by landing scores, Ryan Johnston (pictured) later chipping in with a point.
The Antrim kingpins appeared to have taken a stranglehold on the contest in the third quarter when a brace of points from Kevin Niblock and another from Michael Pollock ushered them into a 0-8 to 0-5 lead.
But the anticipated summary dismissal of Kilcoo never materialised. Instead, the homely Down outfit set about scripting one of the most romantic chapters in the history of the competition.
Ten minutes of normal time remained when Kilcoo full-back Niall McEvoy was red-carded for an off-the-ball misdemeanour.
That was the cue for his team to scale new heights in terms of application and sheer guts.
Scarcely had McEvoy taken his seat in the stand than a flowing Kilcoo movement initiated by Laverty culminated in substitute Sean Devlin whipping in the only goal of the game — and this was just the start of the drama.
Two minutes later O’Hanlon converted to a free to nose Kilcoo into a 1-6 to 0-8 lead, the crowd beginning to sense that sporting miracles can happen.
A temporary moratorium on optimism was applied when St Galls captain Sean Kelly ballooned over a long-rage point to ensure stalemate pertained again but when wing-back Ger McEvoy swept over a Kilcoo point in the 61st minute visions of glory formed on the Down skyline.
And that vision was translated into glorious reality when Paul Devlin hoisted over the last-gasp free that fired Kilcoo into a sporting paradise.
St Gall’s: C Kerr; P Veronica, A McClean, M Kelly; A Healy, S Kelly (0-1), T O’Neill; S Burke, A Gallagher; N O’Neill, K Niblock (0-3), Kieran McGourty; C J McGourty (0-1 free), M Pollock (0-1), K Stewart (0-4). Subs: Kieran McGourty for Burke (43 mins), C Brady for Veronica (58 mins).
Kilcoo: S Kane; N Branagan, N McEvoy, D Branagan; S O’Hanlon, A Branagan, G McEvoy; P Greenan, D Kane ; J Johnston, P Devlin (0-3, 0-2 frees), D O’Hanlon (0-3); C Laverty, (0-1) A Devlin, G McEvoy (0-1). Subs: R Johnston (0-1) for A Devlin (38 mins), S Devlin for G McEvoy (48 mins), A Devlin for J Johnston (62 mins).
Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone).