By Kieran Lynch
KILCOO are Down champions once again. It was anything but easy for the Magpies, as Warrenpoint went with them toe-to-toe, but as Kilcoo always seem to do, they found a way to win.
Having led by four midway through the second half, Kilcoo allowed the ’Point to fight their way back to level matters at the end of 60 minutes, but the All-Ireland champions saw Shane Mulholland’s side off in extra-time, winning 1-13 to 0-15.
Conleith Gilligan and Richard Thornton’s transition to taking over management of the team from Mickey Moran has been seamless, and Gilligan was in great spirits after the win, as he praised the consistency of his team. They have now won four straight Down titles and 10 of the last eleven on offer.
“It feels brilliant,” said the former Derry footballer.
“It went to the wire, the chips were down, and everything seemed to be going the wrong way, but it’s a credit to them, because when it came to extra-time we were able to manage it.
“The consistency of some of these boys is incredible – there are four or five of them now, who have got 11 county championships (stretching back to 2009) and are some of the most decorated players in the history of Down football.
“And you know what? They deserve it, because they have been magnificent for a long, long period and thankfully they were able to continue that.”
Kilcoo’s consistency in digging out a win in a close encounters owes in no small part to the experience they have accumulated over the years, and Gilligan recalled their 2020 All-Ireland final defeat as a lesson which they have learned from.
“When you go into extra-time, especially when they had equalised and had all the momentum, it helps (having experience),” he explained.
“We learned from the All-Ireland club final against Corofin, where we reached a certain height and couldn’t replicate it (in extra-time). It’s all about conserving our energy and using it in the right places.
“Going in before extra-time, you wouldn’t have been sure if you were in a changing room or at a wake, because they were just silent. Because they know what they have to do, and they did that.”
Even though Kilcoo’s trophy cabinet is beginning to overflow, the joyous scenes of jubilation following the full-time whistle showed that it still means a lot to win a Down Championship title, as they don’t come easily.
“Everybody from outside thinks, ‘they’re not interested in Down,’ but anybody who is involved in Down football knows how tight it is,” said Gilligan.
“We had extra-time in the quarter-final, we had extra-time in the final – there is nothing between the teams. Down football is as competitive as anywhere in the country, and any day you’re not on it, you’re going to get chinned, so from that perspective, it meant a lot.
“Nobody takes these days for granted. These boys live and breathe it; it’s their life and losing would have just been a heartbreak.”