Fairy tale perfect ending to Kilcoo’s story

After Kilcoo manager Conleith Gilligan spent a joyous 18 minutes speaking to reporters, telling the inside story of Kilcoo’s spectacular All-Ireland victory with virtually the last game of the game.

Before the football final, the club hurling final was played out in the most outrageous finish imaginable, with substitute Harry Ruddle firing a long shot that pierced Ballyhale’s net and won the Ballygunner title.

Gilligan had come out of the locker room and looked at him.

So when Kilcoo was down two points in added time in extra time, he found himself between fellow selector Richard Thornton and manager Mickey Moran as Jerome Johnston – limping on a cramp-bound leg – put pressure on the Kilmacud Crokes goalkeeper Conor Ferris.

Ferris ended up sabotaging the ball, and it was picked up by Aaron Branagan of Kilcoo.

Gilligan grabbed Thornton and Moran’s sleeves and shouted, “There’s a Ballygunner here coming!”

Branagan picked Shealin Johnston who passed his man and fired a pass to find his brother Ryan. His shot was blocked on the line by Cian O’Connor.

He could have gone anywhere, but he fell into the grateful arms of Jerome Johnston, who limped to the end. He composed himself and put the shot high in the net and propelled them to an All-Ireland title.

This small village of a sheepfold of Mournes, of 1500 inhabitants, had finally done it.

Then, the goalscorer relived the moment that involved the three Johnston brothers.

“As soon as Aaron got it, I yelled at Ryan, ‘Go to the box’. Because I thought if he threw it, he had more height than me and I could get rid of his crumbs .

“The next thing Shealin, I don’t know how, picked it with his right foot. Good place. good time. I couldn’t believe it to be honest when I saw it coming to me. I was like, ‘Is this real?’

When you’ve been chasing this level for 13 years, it seems hard to describe it as a landslide victory, but the bare facts are that Kilmacud came on the break 0-8 down 0-2.

Kilcoo had been abysmal and had made seven wides in the first half alone. Conor Laverty had been given a chance to score in the eighth minute and Ferris pulled wide wide to save.

As the game entered the third quarter, fortune intervened. An Anthony Morgan shot was blocked for a ’45. Goalkeeper Niall Kane came on and when his kick fell short, Crokes defender Ross McGowan got a deflection into his own net.

“At this point you start thinking, ‘Here we go,'” Gilligan said. They hit three of the next four runs to tie, leveling for the first time just on the hour mark through Paul Devlin.

In added time, both teams were tight. Kilcoo kidnapped Ryan and Shealin Johnston only to fire them again. Crokes built a two-point lead that seemed to drive them home.

And then the dreams came true in the most spectacular way with Johnston’s late goal. It was the first time Kilcoo had led in the game.

Crokes tried to work an attack, but a desperate shot went astray and Eugene Branagan emerged from the air with the ball in his hands. Sean Hurson blew full time.

On the podium, co-captains Conor Laverty and Aidan Branagan didn’t move until Mickey Moran joined them up there.

“He didn’t want to go up at all to be honest,” Gilligan said.

“But Conor wasn’t doing anything more until he came. And then finally he went there, reluctantly, because he doesn’t want the spotlight, he doesn’t want people talking about him.

“He doesn’t want to be history. How many times have you seen captains take on a manager to lift the cup? But the boys all knew what that meant to Mickey, even though it had never been mentioned during the week. There was a feeling that everyone knew what this meant to him.

“He gives so much and asks so little, especially the older players, they really wanted to do it for him and I know it’s a cliché but it was really true as you can see from the emotion at the end.”

KILCOO: N Kane 1-0; N Branagan, R McEvoy, A Branagan; M Rooney, D Branagan, E Branagan; D Ward, Aaron Morgan; C Doherty, J Johnston 1-1, S Johnston; C Laverty 0-2, R Johnston, P Devlin 0-4, 3f

Subs: Anthony Morgan 0-1, for R Johnston (35), A Branagan for A Morgan (47), R Johnston for S Johnston (58), S Johnston for Rooney (70), J Clarke for Doherty (77)

KILMACUD CROKES: C Ferris; D O’Brien, R McGowan, M Mullin; C O’Shea, R O’Carroll, A McGowan 0-1; B Shovlin, C Slides 0-2; A Jones, D Mullen 0-1m, S Horan 0-2; H Kenny, T Fox 0-1f, S Cunningham 0-1m.

Subs: C O’Connor 0-3, 2f for Fox (42), C Casey for Horan (54), C Pearson 0-1, for Kenny (54), A Quinn for Jones (54), C Kinsella for Dias ( 60), T Clancy for Mullin (and), A Jones for R McGowan (76)M O’Leary for Cunningham (70), Horan for Mullen (70)

Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)

Man of the Match: Eugene Branagan

Match Rating: 6

THE GAME AT A GLANCE

HEROES OF THE MATCH
MICKEY MORAN
The Kilcoo players said they had never seen Mickey Moran angry, until he addressed them at half-time here. He told them they had to take evasive action or else they might as well put their bags on the bus and go home. It was eerily similar to his half-time speech in Derry’s 1993 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin when he was credited with inspiring that team to an All-Ireland. Twenty-nine years later, he has shown that he still has a way of finding the right words.

TURNING
There were plenty of scoring chances and chances but the situation Kilcoo found himself in at the break was dire. In the second minute of the second half, Kilmacud put together a smooth move that ended with Dara Mullen scoring Craig Dias’ goal to drive home. Miceál Rooney (right) was in the right place to pick it up. If Dias had reached him, the lights were out.

REF WATCH
Some might have found it strange that an Ulster referee, Sean Hurson, could officiate a match involving an Ulster team, but Hurson is an excellent whistler and didn’t step out of line all evening. He gave gifts when they were deserved, consulted with Hawkeye when needed, and the free count was remarkably tight.

AND AFTER ?
Where do you go when you’re on top of the mountain? KIlcoo joins Burren as Clubs Down for delivering All-Ireland titles to the county. Not too long ago they were playing Division Three at Down.

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