Cumann Pheadair Naofa 0-14 Cill Chua 1-12
Championship final day is always a special day for the Gaels of Down. This year it was not only special but poignant as we mourned the passing of Eamonn Burns and were deeply touched as his sons Cathal and Thomas bravely took their father’s place as the ’91 and ’94 Down Teams lined up at the start of the match. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam.
This was a close hard fought encounter, much as it was expected to be, the new kids on the block showed no nerves and were not daunted by the occasion or by their opponents who came to the match with excellent credentials, seven Down Finals in a row with six wins from those games and facing into their eighth final in a row. Warrenpoint were facing their first final in two generations. The odds were stacked against us but we believed and during the match we went on believing right up until the final whistle and we still believe; although this Wait goes on for another while the signs are there, it is soon coming to an end.
This was the one that got away we had our chances, by the narrowest of margins they didn’t go our way, we lose they win, that’s sport and life goes on.
The opening minutes of the match were quiet and laboured with both sets of forwards making speculative forays into their opponents half. Kilcoo were the first to get a scoring opportunity when Ryan Johnston was fouled on the 50m line in the second minute Paul Devlin put the kick wide and it was left to Ryan Mallon to get the first score of the game following a powerful solo run he comfortably slotted the ball over the bar in the 3rd minute from 30m out. The resulting Kick out was gathered in the middle of the field by John Boyle who fed Ciarán Mc Cartan advancing with speed and purpose he gave to Ryan Mallon who returned to Mc Cartan he passed to Donagh Mc Aleenen who saw Rhino in space in front of goal, his shot saved by Martin Mc Court playing in his first final although only a few minutes into the game it was a pivotal moment. Kilcoo cleared their lines but within a minute The Point were awarded a free about 40m from the Kilcoo goal it went short and was collected by the Kilcoo defence. Narrow margins, we were still one point up, it could have been five. In the 7th minute Ruairí Mc Cormack shot narrowly wide from play. A few minutes later Kilcoo opened their account with a point from Ryan Mc Evoy following a foul on Jerome Johnston by marker Ryan Mc Aleenan. When Ciaran Mc Cartan was fouled after kicking the ball Ross Mc Garry was left with an easy tip over for Warrenpoint’s second score. When the referee spotted an off the ball foul on Ryan Johnston Kilcoo were awarded a close range free and Ryan Mc Aleenan joined Aidan Brannigan with his name in the book. It was no bother for Paul Devlin and the sides were level with two points each on the 12th minute. Ryan Johnston was fouled shortly after that when Kilcoo defence won a turnover when Aaron d’Arcy was in possession and promptly brought Johnston into play. Once again Devlin had no problem with the conversion. Kilcoo a point up. Kilcoo attacked again from the kick out but great work from John Boyle sent the Point men advancing again. Aaron J Magee was on the end of the move and shot from about 20m out however it went wide to the left of the post. Warrenpoint’s second wide of the half. Ruairí Mc Cormack levelled from play in the 16th minute after a passage of good play from Warrenpoint and The Point went one ahead again following a Mc Garry free in the 22 minute. When Conor Laverty went to ground the goal keeper Martin Mc Court struck the resultant free beautifully over the bar from nearly 50m out. The sides were level again. In the remaining minutes of the half Kilcoo had the better of exchanges , Ryan Johnston following a great run had a shot that went narrowly wide this was followed by another R. Johnston run that led to a free straight in front of goal converted by Paul Devlin and a booking for Ryan Boyle. Ross Mc Garry scored Warrenpoint’s final score of the half when Donagh Mc Aleenen was fouled 30m from goal by Ryan Johnston. From the kick out Ryan Mc Evoy caught beautifully in the middle of the field he fed Jerome Johnston with a long ball and Johnston passed to the advancing full back Aidan Branagan who powerfully fisted the ball over the bar to give Kilcoo their only score from play in the half and a one point lead as the ref blew for half time. Kilcoo 0-06 Warrenpoint 0-05.
In the opening minutes of the second half Donagh Mc Aleenan shot from 30m out but it went short into the goalie’s hands Kikcoo advanced up the field keeping possession all the way when the ball was slipped to Dylan Ward 40m out and in front of goal he sent a marvellous shot over the bar. Kilcoo two in front. In the 3rd minute of the half Ross Mc Garry scored another free following that after a good Warrenpoint move Donagh broke free and was heading goal ward but was felled by Darryl Branagan who was black carded for his trouble. Mc Garry slotted over the resulting free. Sides level again. Ryan Mallon was penalised as he advanced for shielding himself from the attentions of Aidan Branagan. The ball was quickly dispatched to the newly introduced Sheelan Johnston he advanced and shot but it went narrowly wide. In their next attack Kilcoo seemed certain for a goal but Garry Mc Mahon was out to block Aidan Branagan’s shot, Dylan Ward sent the ball wide and the teams were still level but the Point were living dangerously. John Boyle picked Ross Mc Garry out with a free and Mc Garry turned to send the ball gloriously over the bar from 35m out. The Point one ahead. The next attack from Kilcoo resulted in a good shot from Jerome Johnston skimming past the goal and wide it got a touch from a Point defender and a 45m was awarded. Devlin took this kick and landed it over the bar, all square again. Exchanges were fast and furious at this stage with both defences doing well. Donagh Mc Aleenan sent a high ball across the goal to Mc Garry who punched it but it went wide. Kilcoo had a wide when Sheelan Johnston missed a great chance. Ten minutes of the half gone and all square. At this point team captain Ryan Boyle left the fray with an injury and was replaced by Eoghan Byrne wearing No 21. After a great intervention by Ross Mc Garry Aaron J Magee was making ground on the left wing but in avoiding Kikcoo defenders he slipped and was penalised for being too long in possession. Shortly afterwards he was replaced by Jamie Grant. At the other end the Point defence were penalised rather harshly I thought when Jerome Johnston seemed to be charging through. Ryan Mc Evoy made no mistake Kilcoo back in front by a point. Shortly afterwards Eoghan Byrne equalised with a marvellous point taken 35m out on the left hand side of the goal. The Point were going well at this stage John Boyle send another on over from 40m out straight in front of goal and we wondered could we push on and take control. Eugene Branagan won a crucial possession in the middle of the field was awarded a fee and the ball was dispatched towards the Point goal. Another free resulted in the ball being dispatched to Conor Lavery who measured a delightful ball into space in the Pont box Dylan Ward ran on to it and with a deft touch put the ball over the advancing keeper into the net. Kilcoo two points ahead. Straight from the kickout following great work from Eoghan Byrne and John Boyle the ball was sent to Donagh Mc Aleenan on the edge of the square he passed to Ross a goal seemed certain but Ross’s fisted shot went narrowly wide. Kilcoo could smell victory. Two points ahead with eight minutes to go. A foul on Jamie Grant 30m from goal converted by Ross Mc Garry left a single point between the teams again all was not lost. Another Kilcoo attack and Conor Laverty goes to ground again with dramatic effect when Adam Lynch lays a hand on him and Ryan Mc Evoy converts. Kilcoo two ahead again. Jerome Johnston followed this up with an excellent point from close to the end line on the right hand side. Kilcoo three ahead, things not looking good. A hastily taken free from Eoghan Byrne gave Kilcoo possession 30m from the Point goal and we were fortunate to escape with a Ryan Johnston fisted point when it could just as easily gone into the goal. It was Kilcoo’s last score of the game and t this stage it left them four ahead. Mc Garry converted a free following a foul on John Boyle and it was back to three. With a few minutes remaining Ross mc Garry now playing very deep sent a long ball goalward it was beautifully caught by Jamie Grant he was fouled and Mc Garry converted the free, back to two points down. The Point won the resultant kick out and attacked again with a packed defence it wasn’t easy put their patience was rewarded with a point from Mc Garry. Only one between them cold we get a draw and come back for another go. One minute left. A poor Kilcoo kick out was spilled by Conor Laverty who then threw himself on the ball and seemed to flick it on the ground to a Kilcoo defender but the ref didn’t spot it and Kilcoo were safe. Jamie Grant received a yellow card for a foul on Aaron Branagan and it was all over Kilcoo were champions again for the 16th time.
What excitement and sense of Club and community this year’s championship has evoked in Cumann Peadair Naofa, we have had great support right across the community, from our neighbouring clubs in the ancient parish of Clonallon from our neighbours in Rostrevor. We have men on our team who must get a Championship victory before they hand up the boots it, takes a massive effort but we can do it soon. We have seen Down win All Irelands and been excited and delighted in the process but somehow I don’t know why to see your own club in a senior final is an experience in a higher plane to see a club championship victory would be sublime. In the words of our great leader, ‘onwards and upwards’.