By Shaun Casey
FOR the neutral, they got exactly what they wanted last weekend. An Ulster final between the reigning provincial and All-Ireland champions Kilcoo and the new up-and-comers Glen in a repeat of last year’s semi-final showdown.
Three points separated the sides after extra time in 2021 and while the pair have only ever shared the field once at this level, their relationship is slowly developing into a classic rivalry.
Despite winning that encounter and going on to achieve the ultimate prize, Kilcoo’s free-scoring forward Paul Devlin believes their Derry counterparts head into the game as favourites.
“At the end of the day, we just have to knuckle down and do our own business because we’re not really in the headlines as such at the minute,” said Devlin after his side had ruthlessly put away Enniskillen Gaels in the semi-final.
“We’re happy where we are, we’re content, to me we’re going into the game as underdogs. The bookies have Glen raging hot favourites for what they’ve done so far this year, so we’ll chop the hand off it and just go about our business quietly.”
Devlin insists that the Magpies never took their eye off their Fermanagh opposition, even though Conleith Gilligan and Richie Thronton’s men were unbackable favourites.
“I think everyone was kind of expecting it, but listen we just had to go and do our own business. We went about our business quietly and we know what Glen are like, we came up against them last year,” added Devlin.
“I haven’t really seen much of them this year. Last year was a tactical kind of battle, I don’t know if it’s going to be that this year, I think maybe both teams want to prove a point, who knows.”
The meeting last year, which also took place at the Athletic Grounds, was decided by a Jerome Johnston goal, but the Kilcoo sharpshooter isn’t firing at all cylinders of late. Johnston has tagged on just one point in the last five games and was the only one of the six starting forwards that didn’t score against the Gaels.
“Everybody has to step up to the plate, you can’t rely on one man. Last year he scored a number of important goals for us and got us over the line in the All-Ireland final.
“But throughout the games there, you can probably see Jerome more mature about his play.
“He’s not scoring as the goals, but he probably has a hand on somebody laying off the ball or setting somebody else up or winning ball inside,” explained Devlin.
“I think the boys are starting to mature more the more they get that experience and there’s a lot of young boys that came on there tonight. Wee Tiernan Fettes, Sean Óg McCusker, Macdarragh Hynes, all these young boys are getting big opportunities in Ulster Championship football and that’ll stand to us later on down the line.
“It’s not a 15-man team anymore, it’s up to 20 or 25 players and on any given time they have to do everything they can to get on the pitch.”