By Katrina Brennan
“IT’S a steep learning curve and unfortunately tonight we probably fell off the cliff a wee bit,” admitted Enniskillen Gaels manager, Simon Bradley after his team were comprehensively beaten by All-Ireland champions Kilcoo in the Athletic Grounds.
After winning the toss, the Gaels elected to play against a wind that would’ve blown the head off you and for the first 10 minutes they kept Kilcoo to just two points. A goal on 11 minutes signalled what the Down men are capable off with or without a wind, and from there on it was a bit of an onslaught.
While Bradley said, “we were set up to defend against it (the wind)”, he pin-points the two first-half goals as being the real match-winning moments for the Mourne men.
“When we look back on it we’ll be disappointed probably. The manner in which we conceded the goals in the first half, that was the real killer blow. If we were going in, six, seven, even eight points down with that breeze, but the goals absolutely killed us. The stats man is after telling me they probably turned the ball over for 2-8,” said Bradley.
Like Derrygonnelly last year in the Ulster final, Kilcoo have an innate ability to score goals at key moments. Trailing 2-8 to 0-1 going in at the break, it felt like Enniskillen had an insurmountable task in the second half.
“Obviously the players were down, they’ve never been at this level before. We just talked about restoring a bit of pride and making sure that they put a marker down for future times and I think they did that in the second half. We certainly stood up and were counted and put in a decent shift in the second half.”
And it was a decent shift, sparked by half-time substitute Eoin Beacom. He hit 1-3 and gave the Gaels supporters a reason to fly their flags on a wintry November night.
If he had played from the start would it have made a difference? Possibly not, but the focus will now be on getting Beacom match-fit for next season.
“Eoin has to work on his fitness now, he knows that himself, he told me that himself,” explained Bradley as he stood on the Armagh turf.
“He’s quality, just quality and we were glad he pinged a few over there in the second half.”
Between Beacom only having a half in him and Callum Jones being ruled out due to a red card he received in the Ulster quarter-final against Gowna, the Gaels may well wonder what difference the talented centre half-forward may have made. Bradley was in no doubt his absence was telling;
“A massive loss, even in training, Callum training makes training different. He was a big, big, loss. Callum is a very experienced player, a confident player – that’s what I needed there was a bit more confidence.”
Kilcoo are the best in the business at what the do, at times they looked like they had 17 players on the field. There’s always a man running ahead of the ball in space.
“They’re a slick operation, they’re super fit, we knew all that. Seeing them up close up, did they get into fifth gear today? Probably not. Are they saving a bit for the final? They probably are. They’re a very impressive unit and something for us to target in the future,” he said.
“We’ll lick our wounds, have a bit of a winter and come back here next year and hopefully try and get out of county Fermanagh again because it’s going to be tough as hell.”