By Gareth McCullough
Cumann Pheadair Naofa 0-14 Kilcoo 1-12
Kilcoo regained their Down Senior Football Championship title on Sunday as Dylan Ward's goal eight minutes from time proved the difference between the Magpies and St Peter’s Warrenpoint.
It was something of a war of attrition at Pairc Esler, with both sides wary of each other's strengths from the outset and happy to size each other up for the vast majority of the match.
But when Ward converted with as cute lifted finish from Conor Laverty’s deflected pass in the 52nd minute, it gave the Eoghan Rua men a two-point lead, and although Warrenpoint made a valiant effort to claw their way back into it, Kilcoo’s vast experience saw then over the line.
The new management team of former Slaughtneil boss Mickey Moran and Ballinderry’s Conleith Gilligan had been tasked with reinvigorating a Kilcoo side that had seen their chances of a historic seven-in-a-row in the county dashed by Burren last year.
They duly delivered the 17th title today and will face the Derry champions at Pairc Esler in the first round of Ulster on 3 November.
Kilcoo led 0-06 to 0-05 at the break in a scrappy affair that didn’t exactly set the pulses racing of the bumper crowd in Newry.
Paul Devlin top scored for Kilcoo with four points, all from placed balls, but it was the young midfield duo of Ward and 18-year-old Ryan McEvoy who were the game changers for their side, hitting 1-04 between them and dominating kickouts from either end of the pitch.
Warrenpoint, playing in their first Down senior final since 1958, will live to rue a huge missed goal opportunity midway through the second half when Ross McGarry threw himself full length to attempt to fist Donagh McAleenan’s cross ball into the empty net.
However, McGarry, who hit seven frees in his total of nine points could look on in despair as the ball shot wide of the post.
Ward then struck his goal and although Kilcoo led 1-12 to 0-11 with three minutes of normal time remaining, Niall McAleenan’s Blues hit the next three points in a row, but just couldn’t get the break to force a replay in the dying seconds of the match as Kilcoo did what Kilcoo generally do – closing the game out with their huge experience of dealing with pressure situations.
Cumann Pheadair Naofa: Gary McMahon; Adam Lynch, Patrick Murdock, Ryan McAleenan; Ryan Boyle, John Boyle (0-1), Ciaran McCartan; Cormac McCartan, Ryan Magee; Ryan Mallon (0-1), Donagh McAleenan (0-1, free), Ruairi McCormack (0-1); Aaron Magee, Ross McGarry (0-9, 7f), Aaron D’Arcy
Subs: Anton Magill (0-1) for R Boyle (45), Jamie Grant for A Magee (48)
Kilcoo: Martin McCourt (0-1, free); Niall Branagan, Aidan Branagan (0-1), Niall McEvoy; Aaron Branagan, Darryl Branagan, Miceal Rooney; Ryan McEvoy (0-3, all frees), Dylan Ward (1-1); Anthony Morgan, Paul Devlin (0-4, 3f, 1’45), Ryan Johnston (0-1); Eugene Branagan, Jerome Johnston (0-1), Conor Laverty
Subs: Shealan Johnston for D Branagan (Black Card – 37), Aaron Morgan for E Branagan (52), Tiernan Fettes for Morgan (60+1)
Referee: Adrian Sharvin