By Shaun Casey
FOR two teams that have dominated their respective county championships, there isn’t that much recent history between Kilcoo and Scotstown as they lock horns on Sunday (Páirc Esler, 3.15pm) for the first time since 2016.
That was a preliminary round tie which the Magpies edged on their way to reaching a second Ulster final in five years, however Sleacht Néill, led by Mickey Moran, the man who would eventually get Kilcoo over the line in Ulster and on the national stage, proved too strong.
Ryan Johnston claimed the all-important three-pointer in that 1-8 to 0-9 victory for Kilcoo and Johnston was back among the scorers last weekend as Karl Lacey’s side began their march to provincial glory in style.
Kilcoo breezed past Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly with nine points to spare in the end with Paul Devlin (penalty) and Sean Óg McCusker, a half-time substitute, rippling the net in Brewster Park.
It was the sort of ruthless and determined victory that we’ve come to expect from the Down representatives, whose eyes will be placed firmly on regaining their Ulster title after losing to Glen in last year’s decider.
And they did it without their go-to forward Jerome Johnston, who limped off the Páirc Esler turf just eight minutes into their county final victory over rivals Burren. If the oldest of the Johnston brothers is still unavailable this weekend, that will be a major blow to Kilcoo.
Speaking of star forwards, Scotstown have a couple of their own to call upon, no more so than Jack McCarron who controversially transferred to the An Bhoth men from Currin at the beginning of the year.
The Monaghan sharpshooter has been in deadly form for David McCague’s side and picked up their Player of the Match award for his contribution of six points as Scotstown overcame Inniskeen to capture the Mick Duffy Cup.
How Kilcoo handle his scoring threat could be a key decider in the outcome of the game and full-back Ryan McEvoy could be the one to pick him up, but it certainly won’t be just a one-man job.
Despite featuring in numerous provincial campaigns over the past decade, Scotstown haven’t been able to claim an Ulster silverware and haven’t reached the final since 2018, when they lost to Donegal champions Gaoth Dobhair.
Kilcoo, on the other hand, have competed in the last three deciders, winning two, along with an All-Ireland title in that time.
But in saying that, inter-county experience goes in the way of the visitors this weekend given Scotstown’s heavy involvement in Vinny Corey’s Monaghan squad.
The Hughes brothers, Darren and Kieran, along with the likes of Rory Beggan, Shane Carey and Conor McCarthy, a potential All-Star this season, have all represented Monaghan at the highest level while Ryan O’Toole burst onto the scene this year.
It’s an interesting match-up that has the potential to go right down to the wire, however home advantage may just be enough to sway it in Kilcoo’s favour. The bookies have marked them down as the favourites, and that may just be how it pans out.