Reigning champions Kilcoo hold nerve in Newry penalty drama

Morgan Fuels Down SFC Quarterfinals: Kilcoo 0-11 Clonduff 1-8 (after overtime Kilcoo won 4-3 on penalties)

Neil Loughran at Pairc Esler

THE All-Ireland champions are still standing – just barely – after Kilcoo kept his cool in the chaos of last night’s penalty shoot-out to see rivals Clonduff in a night of drama in Newry.

In truth, the Hilltown men deserved better than to say goodbye like this after a stingy contest. After coming out on top for most of normal time, it looked like a seismic shock was about to be sent through the Championship, only for their dreams to be so horribly shattered.

The first time Kilcoo took the lead came two minutes into injury time thanks to a point from Daryl Branagan. After so confidently knocking out the same opponents four weeks earlier, the Magpies expected a kick, and they got it.

When extra time turned into a staring competition at times and neither wanted to take the risk that might reap the ultimate reward, there was an odd inevitability about penalties.

Paul Devlin, Ryan McEvoy and Ceilum Doherty came on for Kilcoo, while Jerome Johnston and goalkeeper Niall Kane saw their efforts saved by Mark Devlin.

Aidan Carr, Padraig Wilson and Eamon Brown converted for Clonduff, with Arthur McConville firing wide and Tom Close seeing his penalty saved as the penalty shootout turned to sudden death.

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With the pressure on and barely a breath in Pairc Esler, Devlin was first again – making no mistake and pounding the net.

Aidan Carr was next to make the long walk for a second time, but after bringing his first home so coolly, the Clonduff veteran’s little effort caught Kane’s shin this time.

And with Carr burying his head in his hands, there was chaos – and quite a sigh of relief – among the Magpies as they finally sealed a safe passage into tonight’s semi-final draw.

For much of the night, however, that looked anything but certain.

Clonduff was clearly chastised by what had happened here the last day, and just as Kilcoo had hunted them down like demons a month earlier, this time Clonduff set the terms of the engagement.

Faced with a stiff breeze and lacking the momentum from Dylan Ward and Jerome Johnston – both second-half substitutes – the Magpies struggled to penetrate the yellow wall.

Ross Carr popped up all over the center, winning the ball and lapping every time the Hilltown men countered, while brother Charlie kept playing the role of the Clonduff quarterback looking for Arthur McConville.

It paid off in just that first half hour.

The warning signs were there in the opening minutes, the first goal coming when a long Carr ball fell dangerously before being palmed out by Kane. Wilson made no mistake from the 45.

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In the 14th minute the same game could have ended in a penalty when Miceal Rooney’s Arthur McConville appeared to have stumbled on the pitch as he intercepted another Carr pass. Referee Brian Higgins wasn’t convinced.

And then came the breakthrough Clonduff was hoping for after 22 minutes. Carr drove one in, Kane came out and batted, but it rebounded off one of his own players, and when Daryl Branagan unusually spilled possession, Eamon Brown poked the net from a yard. Barry O’Hagan struck from a mark five minutes later to leave Clonduff 1-3, 0-1 before half-time.

A couple of free-kicks from Paul Devlin closed the gap before the break and as the Magpies roared into the second half and landed the first couple of points it looked like the balance had shifted.

But despite Clonduff scoring just three points in the second half, the expected Kilcoo attack failed to materialize and play fell into a familiar pattern right into the frantic final 10 minutes.

A brilliant strike from Ward finally saw McEvoy ping over the leveler with eight points to play, then Daryl Branagan put the Magpies ahead as the clock ran out before a brilliant mark from Eamon Brown which Eamon Brown scored – and converted – sent the game into overtime .

After an uneventful first half, McConville gave Clonduff an 8-1 lead to a 10-0 lead. There was a faint roar from Hilltown believers. Could they hold out?

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As is often the case, however, Kilcoo wasn’t nervous and showed the spirit of champions to dig in and force another opportunity – Kane stepped up from goal and sent the equalizer that sent the game to penalties.

It was in the bosom of the gods then – and that night they smiled at the reigning All-Ireland champions.

Kilcoo: N Kane (0-1, free); R McEvoy (0-2, 0-1 free), M Rooney, N Branagan; T Fettes, Aidan Branagan, D Branagan (0-1); Aaron Morgan (0-1), Anthony Morgan; E Branagan, R Johnston, S Johnston, P Devlin (0-6, 0-5 free); C. Doherty, C. Laverty. Substitutes: D Ward for Anthony Morgan (42), J Johnston for Laverty (49), S Og McCusker for E Branagan (50), M Hynes for Aidan Branagan (50), Aaron Branagan for Rooney (59), E Branagan for Fettes (70, ET), C. Laverty for S. Johnston (77, ET)

Yellow card: D Ward (58)

Clonduff: M Devlin; L Branagan, Conal Brown; D O’Hagan; R Lively, J Gribben, J O’Hagan; A Carr, R Carr; P Lively, B O’Hagan (0-1, Mark), C Carr, P Wilson (0-1, 45); A McConville (0-4, 0-2 clear), E Brown (1-2, 0-1 clear, 0-1 Mark). Substitutes: R Branagan for C Carr (52), Conor Brown for P Lively (57), P Clancy for R Carr (60+3), R Carr for R Lively (70, ET), P Cowan for B O’Hagan ( 72, ET), D Rafferty for J O’Hagan (77, ET)

Yellow cards: P. Wilson (6th), R. Lively (30th + 1), A. McConville (36th), B. O’Hagan (57th), J. O’Hagan (58th)

Referee: B. Higgins (Annaclone)

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