By Katrina Brennan
AFTER a four-week gap since the Ulster semi-final, Derrygonnelly captain Ryan Jones is raring to go. The 31-year-old midfielder brings a vast amount of experience at both county and club level, but Sunday will be a step into the unknown. It’s a first for the club and it’s a first for Jones.
Kilcoo stand between Jones becoming the first Fermanagh man to lift the Séamus McFerran Cup and having been beaten by the Magpies in the 2019 Ulster semi-final, he needs no reminding about what it will take to beat the team widely tipped for All-Ireland glory.
“That game (2019), it was close, definitely and people say we could have won but there’s lots of games teams have played and they could’ve won but Kilcoo is very good at doing that, winning games where the opposition feel that they could’ve got over the line but they don’t.
“We know that it will be tougher than two years ago because Kilcoo have improved a lot, they’ve brought new younger players into their team as well. They got to the All-Ireland final that year and lost out narrowly after extra time, they had a man sent off in that game as well, so I’ve no doubt Kilcoo will be focused on winning Ulster and be trying to go one step further this time around.”
Kilcoo has impressed in this year’s Ulster Championship. The easily dispatched of Ramor and in a testing and very defensive encounter that went to extra time, they dominated from there to shake off Malachy O’Rourke’s Glen. Jones knows Mickey Moran’s team is a top drawer but he is confident in the Harps’ ability too.
“They can play attacking football as well, people sometimes say that they are defensive but it’s just maybe naturally they get into that defensive shape whenever they lose the ball but whenever you look at the Kilcoo forwards and you go through them, they’re brilliant players and they could go out and play 15 against 15 with any team in the country.
“As for ourselves, we’ve played different ways depending on the opposition but sometimes it just depends on how the game pans out. You might have plans to go out and play a certain way but maybe the opposition disrupt that, so you’ve got to be able to adjust and that’s the sign of a good team, that can play it as they see it, rather than going to script and if it isn’t going your way, not being able to adapt.
“I think a good team will play it and if they have to change, so be it and they can deal with it on the pitch at the time and that’s what it’ll be on Sunday. I’m sure the two teams will feel each other out and then I’m sure the game will take off in a world of its own really.”
Derrygonnelly have been tested this year, within the county and outside. In the Fermanagh Championship, the Harps was forced to replays against both Ederney and Kinawley and against Dromore, they edged it after extra time.
In the Ulster semi-final, Kilcoo’s ‘cuteness’ was never more evident than in extra time against Glen. Jones hopes they too will have developed and gained a similar know-how when it comes to Sunday at the Athletic Grounds.
“Kilcoo definitely have a know-how of winning games, some people put that down to quality and a never-say-die attitude, grinding out games by one or two points in really tight battles. You have to give credit to the opposition and say they have that know-how to do it.
“We would say we’ve got better at winning tight games, we’ve obviously been tested a lot in Fermanagh this year. I still think we have a bit to go to get to Kilcoo’s level and they’re very good at getting frees moved forward and buying the referee that way, where they pretend to hit it quick and the next thing the referee brings it in. They are switched on that way but I’ve no doubt the likes of Martin McNally will be well aware of what people would call as being ‘cute.’”
Kilcoo will arrive at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh as favourites to retain the Ulster crown and Jones says that is warranted.
“I do believe Kilcoo deserve to be favourites for the game because of the quality that they have, because they are the reigning Ulster champions because they were the All-Ireland finalists. It doesn’t really matter to us, we’ve played plenty of games where we’ve been favourites and plenty where we’ve been underdogs, so at the end of the day people can have their own opinions, it’s all about what each camp brings to the match day.
“We’ll just go out and try and bring our game to it and I’m sure Kilcoo will be focusing on themselves as well. I don’t think it really matters who is favourites and who is underdogs, Kilcoo won’t pass any remarks on it either.”
Should Derrygonnelly achieve what oftentimes felt like the impossible, given it’s 20 years since the last Fermanagh team, Enniskillen Gaels, even reached an Ulster final. It would be a huge moment for the county and the Harps club.
“Obviously, it would be massive but it’s not something I’ve thought too much about,” claimed Jones. “It is another game, you can’t really focus on what it would mean for everyone else and what it would mean for the club. Every game you go out, you are going to give it your full effort, you’re going to train and prepare, whether it be a first round in Fermanagh, whether it be a championship final or whether it be an Ulster final. You’re going to do all the right things.
“So, of course it would be massive for the community, it would be massive for a Fermanagh club to do it because it’s never been done before but for us we just need to focus on bringing our ‘A’ game to it and being ready for a massive, massive challenge that Kilcoo is going to bring. The result will take care of itself, whether we’re good enough or not we’ll have to wait and see.”