Hail the history makers! Kilcoo reached a new pinnacle at Croke Park last night when they mounted a stunning comeback to whip the All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship trophy from under the noses of Dublin and Leinster champions Kilmacud Crokes.
If fortune favours the brave, then it was certainly on the side of the Down and Ulster champions in this tingling encounter.
Trailing by 0-8 to 0-2 at half-time and fortunate to have been spared even further ignominy when defender Miceal Rooney somehow managed to flick a net-bound effort from Craig Dias to safety immediately on the resumption, Kilcoo slowly but surely recovered their composure and if their first goal in the 44th minute was nothing short of a gift from the gods, then when Jerome Johnston rocketed in their second in the dying moments of extra-time it was to prove the most monumental strike in the club’s history.
Relief and joy were the overriding emotions at the finish with man of the match Eugene Branagan making it crystal clear as to the source of the team’s inspiration when they appeared to be on their knees.
“We wanted to win this All-Ireland title for Mickey Moran, who along with Conleith Gilligan has been phenomenal with us. We put our heads down and worked even harder and in the end we just managed to get over the line,” declared Branagan.
“A couple of years ago we endured the heartbreak of losing to Corofin and a few home truths were told to us at half-time. Let’s just say that we got ourselves together after that. Kilmacud Crokes are a good team but I think our spirit and work rate stood us in good stead.
“We are delighted for all our followers who have been so faithful in remaining with us every step of the way. Things might not have looked too good at half-time but we managed to turn things round after the break and thank God we were able to persevere until the end of extra-time.”
In romping into their formidable interval lead, Kilmacud wrapped out the message that they were strongly focused on the title with Kilcoo up until then having been restricted to a brace of points from joint skipper Conor Laverty and Jerome Johnston.
But in an explosive 10-minute spell in the third quarter the Magpies snapped up an out of the blue goal when goalkeeper Niall Kane’s ‘45’ somehow ended up in the back of the Kilmacud net. When they complemented this with two points from Paul Devlin and another from Laverty, they were very much back in business.
With the sides deadlocked at 1-7 to 0-10 at the end of normal time, the impressive Cian O’Connor came on to breathe fresh impetus into the Dublin and Leinster champions by whipping over two superb points but Kilcoo were not to be denied.
Indeed, Kilmacud must surely have felt that they had one hand on the trophy before Jerome Johnston’s dramatic goal in the closing seconds of what was a nerve-shredding contest.
For assistant manager Conleith Gilligan, the win had special significance. Exactly 20 years ago he was a member of the Ballinderry team that captured All-Ireland Club title success and Kilcoo’s spectacular triumph is, he believes, just reward for the prodigious effort they have put in.
“We could not have asked for more from the lads. They take great pride in wearing the jersey, they work very hard in training and they have a superb collective spirit,” enthused Gilligan.
“We are obviously delighted as a club to have won the biggest trophy of all but we also see this as a bonus for Down and Ulster football.
“We knew going into this game against Kilmacud Crokes that it was going to be tough and let’s just say that they made things very difficult for us in the first half. But I think we got ourselves together after the break and showed what we are made of.
“I think all the players stood tall in what was the greatest night in the club’s history. We have continued to challenge ourselves but this was undoubtedly the biggest test of all and thankfully we came out on the right side.
“It was very uplifting to see the level of support we received from our loyal fans and those from other areas who got behind us. We are just so glad to have played a part in helping to brighten up people’s lives after what has been a particularly difficult two-year period.”
Kilcoo: N Kane 1-0 (‘45’); N Branagan, R McEvoy, A Branagan; M Rooney, D Branagan, E Branagan; A Morgan, D Ward; C Doherty, J Johnston 1-1, P Devlin 0-4 (3f); C Laverty 0-2, R Johnston, S Johnston.
Subs: Anthony Morgan 0-1 for R Johnston (35), A Branagan for Aaron Morgan (46), J Clarke for Doherty (71), S Og McCusker for J Johnston (82),
Kilmacud Crokes: C Ferris, M Mullen, R O’Carroll, R McGowan; A McGovern 0-1, C O’Shea, D O’Brien; B Shovlin, C Dias 0-2; A Jones 0-1, D Mullen 0-2, S Horan 0-2; H Kenny, T Fox 0-1 (f), S Cunningham 0-1 (f).
Subs: C O’Connor 0-3 (2f) for Fox (41), C Casey for Horan (54), A Quinn for Jones (54), C Pearson for Kenny (54), C Kinsella for Dias (61), A Jones for McGowan (66).
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone).