DOWN SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FOOTBALL FINAL
Warrenpoint v Kilcoo
Sunday, Pairc Esler, 4pm
By Shaun Casey
JUST back from the training ground, the Warrenpoint players assemble in the Whistledown Hotel and join the locals at the club’s ‘Blues Breakfast’ as preparations for the county final continue.
The room, like the entire town, is decked out in blue and white, and their dramatic semi-final victory over Loughinisland, which they won 8-7 on penalties, re-runs on the big screen.
Hurling captain Mark Rafferty parades around the Junior championship trophy the hurlers collected last Friday evening. It’s a great time to be from the town.
Three years have passed since Warrenpoint last reached the Down decider and like a lot of clubs in the Mourne County, their hopes and dreams were dashed by the might of kingpins Kilcoo, who edged a fascinating final with one point to spare.
2020 was the last time the Magpies tasted defeat in the Down Championship, and even then, they still went on to lift the Frank O’Hare Cup, taking full advantage of the backdoor system.
Warrenpoint were the team that got one over them two years ago, but Kilcoo had the last laugh at the semi-final stage, winning handsomely in the end. It’s a huge task, taking on the All-Ireland champions, but one Warrenpoint are looking forward to.
“You have to give them huge credit, because of the winning culture they have built and their game management, they didn’t get flustered,” said Warrenpoint boss Shane Mulholland.
“It doesn’t matter how far ahead they are, if they get ahead, they manage the game brilliantly and if they go behind, they also manage the game. They were 6-1 down against Clonduff and they took a couple of scores before half-time and it was a different half-time team-talk.
“To me they are the masters at that, and they are proven at provincial and national stage. We don’t change anything, our gameplan is our gameplan and like every single game our training is prepared, and our matchups are prepared based on what you face. And a team like Kilcoo represents more of a challenge.
“Because when you solve one of the problems Kilcoo add a third and a fourth one, whereas other teams might only have one or two key problems to solve, so it is a bigger ask.
“But we have been asking the boys all year to rely on us to get the matchups right and get the tactics right and you just go out and deliver and so far, except for the second half against Loughinisland and Kilcoo, we have done pretty well.”
Kilcoo saw off Clonduff after a penalty shootout while Mayobridge’s ultra-defensive plan failed to stifle Conleith Gilligan and Richard Thornton’s side. Although both Clonduff and Mayobridge were unsuccessful, did they leave any clues on Kilcoo’s weaknesses?
“You are looking at our games against them and games that they have played in, and where they have done things significantly well and where teams have put them under pressure. And you are just looking for little clues – is that a trend or is that a one-off, is there something you can capitalise on, is there a mismatch or a tactic,” added Mulholland.
“That is what it’s about, and I enjoy that part of it before the game. We will talk about it today and during the week we will start to fine-tune those things. But then the game takes on a life of its own.
“So, the best laid plans get torn up and they change it by doing something clever. What we are saying to the players is that they have to solve the problems on the field for the five or ten minutes that it takes us to get adjusted.
“It’s not a matter of them looking over at the sideline and asking us what to do. I think this group of players are very good at problem solving. There is a lot of experience in the group, and they will fix it and we have a few minutes to chat to figure out what we are going to do.
“The best teams do that best; they manage it on the field, and it gives the sideline a chance to think what we are going to do. All our plans are about the matchups and the games that we have played them and the games they have played against other teams,” continued Mulholland.
“I don’t want to give anything away, but I think there are one or two things we have spotted. And they probably know that too because every team analyses the other team, but they are thinking about themselves and trying to tweak and change things about themselves.
“The Kilcoo lads deserve to get the respect that they have got because they have done it for ten years and they have gone national. We would love to be preparing for an Ulster championship in a couple of weeks’ time to be honest, it would be a brilliant thing.”