Conor Laverty inspires Kilcoo to first Ulster club football title

Down club were coasting until they let Glenties in for two goals just before half-time

Players and supporters celebrate after Kilcoo’s victory over Naomh Conaill in the AIB Ulster Club SFC Final at  Healy Park in  Omagh. Photograph: Evan Logan/Inpho

Players and supporters celebrate after Kilcoo’s victory over Naomh Conaill in the AIB Ulster Club SFC Final at Healy Park in Omagh. Photograph: Evan Logan/Inpho

 

Kilcoo (Down) 2-11 Naomh Conaill (Donegal) 2-9

When it’s your time, the universe has a habit of doing the right thing by you. The last touch of the last ball of the Ulster football season belonged to Conor Laverty, the zippy, intense corner forward for Kilcoo. It was only right and apt that it worked out that way, as he was involved in 2-6 of the 2-11 it took to win their first Ulster title.

Having done his duty and then some up at the sharp end of the pitch, Laverty finished out his afternoon’s work by tidying up in and around the defence. The wit and wiles he’d shown in attack were in evidence again, showing for handy ball, bailing his team-mates out. With one last piece of cuteness, he lifted the last Glenties siege and with that, Kilcoo were free.

In all truth, both sides got what they deserved here and anything less for Kilcoo would have been a travesty. They had to win this three times, really, having been the better side for the majority of the way. They coughed up two bad goals at the end of the first half to keep Glenties in it and wobbled a little as the line came into sight late on.

“We gave away two bad goals at the end of the second half but our dressingroom was very calm at half-time,” said selector Conleith Giligan. “In fairness, I’d say it’s the calmest I’ve seen Mickey [Moran[ in a long time. That’s been the story of our year, going right back to the first game of the Down championship when we were behind at half-time to An Riocht.

“So giving away bad goals and keeping the other team in it is nothing new to us. We were just happy because of the level of performance we’d put in and we knew that if we kept going that way, we’d have a chance.”

Kilcoo’s Conor Laverty in action during the AIB Ulster Club SFC Final against Naomh Conaill at Healy Park in Omagh. Photograph: Evan Logan/Inpho
Kilcoo’s Conor Laverty in action during the AIB Ulster Club SFC Final against Naomh Conaill at Healy Park in Omagh. Photograph: Evan Logan/Inpho

There’s riding your luck and then there’s what Glenties did in the first half. The Donegal side were outclassed by a Kilcoo team that was more compact and more cohesive in just about every facet of the game. The one loose thread was in the Down champions’ full-back line. Glenties pulled on it in desperation and would have been as shocked as anyone to see the whole thing unravel.

With 28 minutes on the clock, Kilcoo were 1-8 to 0-4 ahead and worth every kick of it. Laverty was filling his boots at full forward, beating the Glenties sweeper to get on the ball or lay it off to various Kilcoo runners coming in on goal. In the opening half-hour alone, he was centrally involved in 1-3 of his side’s total. Ably assisted by Paul Devlin, Ryan Johnston and the busy Eugene Branagan, he had Glenties in a tizzy.

More importantly, Kilcoo had made it count on the scoreboard. But for a Stephen McGrath save on 20 minutes, Ryan Johnston would have had a goal to go with his usual stylish running work. The Kilcoo goal did arrive seven minutes later, a peach of a move begun by wing back Darryl Branagan going through Laverty, Branagan again, Johnston and then Aidan Branagan who palmed into an open net. It put them seven ahead, no more than they deserved.

All they had to do was see out the three minutes to half-time. But they couldn’t. Having scored a lovely goal at one end, they gave away a terrible one at the other. Glenties wing back Ethan O’Donnell tried a pot-shot from distance that was drifting wide but was just kept in play by corner forward Jeaic McKelvey. He smuggled a pass to Charles McGuinness who cut the deficit to four.

Within a minute, it was down to one. The Kilcoo full-back line was creaking now and another high ball found its way to McKelvey with his back to goal. He tried a backheel but it was saved, only for corner forward Kieran Gallagher to follow up to the net.

Kilcoo’s Eugene Branagan claims the ball as Naomh Conaill’s AJ Gallagher and Leo McLoone collide during the AIB Ulster Club SFC Final at Healy Park in Omagh. Photograph: Evan Logan/Inpho
Kilcoo’s Eugene Branagan claims the ball as Naomh Conaill’s AJ Gallagher and Leo McLoone collide during the AIB Ulster Club SFC Final at Healy Park in Omagh. Photograph: Evan Logan/Inpho

Somehow, that left the half-time score 1-8 to 2-4 in Kilcoo’s favour. A point was terrible value for how dominant they’d been and the two goals offered Glenties an unearned lifeline. But with Laverty again to the fore, the Down side just knuckled down after the restart and kicked on again.

After Laverty scored his sole point of a brilliant display, he laid on a goal for wing back Darryl Branagan. Within 10 minutes of the restart, Kilcoo were six ahead and cruising. Glenties chipped away, mainly through Ciarán Thompson frees but though they got the margin down to a point with two minutes to go, they were never able to draw level.

A first Ulster title for Kilcoo, a third for Moran. They’ll give Ballyboden or Eire Og plenty of it on the first weekend of January.

KILCOO: Martin McCourt; Niall Branagan, Aidan Branagan (1-0), Niall McEvoy; Anthony Morgan, Shealan Johnston, Darryl Branagan (1-2); Aaron Morgan, Dylan Ward; Eugene Branagan (0-2), Paul Devlin (0-2, one free), Ryan Johnston (0-2); Ryan McEvoy (0-1, free), Jerome Johnston (0-1), Conor Laverty (0-1).

Subs: Justin Clarke for E Branagan (57 mins); Felim McGreevy for McEvoy (b/c, 64).

NAOMH CONAILL: Stephen McGrath; Ultan Doherty, AJ Gallagher, Kevin McGettigan; Ethan O’Donnell (0-2), Anthony Thompson (0-1), Eoin Waide; Ciarán Thompson (0-3, three frees), Leo McLoone; Brendan McDyer (0-1), Eoghan McGettigan, Eunan Doherty (0-1); Jeaic McKelvey (1-0), Charles McGuinness (1-1), Kieran Gallagher.

Subs: Marty Boyle for AJ Gallagher (h-t); Dermot Molloy for K Gallagher (51 mins); Nathan Byrne for McGuinness (56); K Gallagher for Doherty (61).

Referee: Seán Hurson (Tyrone).

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