Ulster Club SFC – Consistency is key for Kilcoo

12, 13, 13, 14, 12, 13, 12 – that’s Kilcoo’s scores per game over the 2019 championship season. The Magpies are consistent, anyway.

That consistency has led to eight county titles in the last 11 seasons and now, as they prepare to face Derrygonnelly in the semi-final, perhaps their best chance at an Ulster crown.

The Magpies have admittedly looked better heading into previous Ulster campaigns, but those attempts have always come up short despite final appearances in 2012 and ’16.

That makes them the most experienced side left in the competition. Opponents Derrygonnelly have never been in the final while Naomh Conaill were last there in 2010 and Clontibret in 1994.

What’s more, winning medals may not be present amongst the players, but the same can’t be said for the management team.

Mickey Moran guided Slaughtneil to three Ulster crowns while coach Conleith Gilligan won medals with Ballinderry in 2001 and 2013.

Fellow coach Paul Devlin, not to be confused with the side’s free-scoring half-forward – is hoping to join that special club in the coming weeks and he feels that the players share that determination.

They have been in this position but obviously they have failed to get over the line,” said the Ballinascreen clubman.

They have won so many Down titles and I suppose the Ulster title is the Holy Grail for them, but it’s something they have yet to achieve.

It’s very hard for us to assess where they are based on where they have been previously as it’s our first year, but we’re very happy with how they have progressed.

They have taken everything on board this year, listened to what we have asked them to do and they’ve done it.

I think they are starting to believe in themselves more. We have seen the change; we have seen it gradually come in over the season.

We have been improving game-on-game and I do get from the players that there is a bit of belief that they can do it.

That’s not saying that they didn’t have the belief before, but you can sense it growing.”

That’s not to say that the Mourne county champions are already thinking of the final. Devlin said that Derrygonnelly present a huge test at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.

You can have feelings, you can think it’s your year and things like that but the bottom line is we can’t think beyond Derrygonnelly,” Devlin said.

Mickey would always have pointed out that they were one of Slaughtneil’s most difficult opponents in Ulster over the last few years.

If you step out of the bubble and look at it from a neutral perspective, any one of the four teams left can win this title.

That’s not cute ‘hoorism’ or building someone up to be something they’re not, we just can’t look past Derrygonnelly.

Gaoth Dobhair are gone, Crossmaglen are gone, Slaughtneil were gone at an early stage – it just shows just how strong these teams are.

Derrygonnelly will be looking for their first final, it’s a huge game for them.”

Kilcoo were pushed hard by Magherafelt in the quarter-final before emerging with a 1-11 to 0-9 win in Newry, Jerome Johnston beautifully finishing the game’s only goal.

It was a significant win given that Magherafelt were representing the Oakleaf county. The Loup (2009), Ballinderry (2013), Sleacht Néill (2016 and 2017) had previously inflicted some Derry punishment on the squad.

They hadn’t actually beaten a Derry team in an Ulster game and that was maybe something that wasn’t recognized in the media,” Devlin continued. “So that was a big thing for them, to finally get a win over a side from there.”

Darragh O’Hanlon remains a long-term absentee for the squad but Devlin said that they were starting to get closer to a full panel with a number of players ramping up their recoveries after being out for so long.

I have never been involved with a club side that has provided as much quality in depth.

I said to our so called B team in training, and it’s not to come across patronizing, but any one of them could come in and slot in to our first 15 easily.

Darragh is out, Ryan Johnston we didn’t see for a long time, Ceilum Doherty was out, Paul Greenan is just back having not played for a long time. Aaron Morgan was out for two years and is only back in the last few months.

We finished the Magherafelt game with three minors on the pitch and Ryan McEvoy is only out of minors by one day so there’s a lot of talent coming through.”

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