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AIB Ulster Club SFC Final: Kilcoo clinch first provincial crown

Sunday 1st December 2019

AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championship Final
By Michael Devlin at Healy Park
Sunday 1st December 2019
After an exhilarating, pulsating 60-odd minutes of football at Healy Park this afternoon, it was Kilcoo who emerged as Ulster SFC champions.  After many years of pursuit for the Down men, there were emotional scenes as joint captains Aidan Branagan and Conor Laverty finally got their hands on the Seamus McFerran Cup.
Donegal champions Naomh Conaill were valiant, twice hauling themselves back into the game after going eight and six points down on separate occasions, but Kilcoo were never going to be denied their maiden Ulster title.
Having played second fiddle for 28 minutes of the half, Naomh Conaill’s more opportunistic attacking approach saw them enter the tunnel at halftime only a point behind.  The sides were deadlocked at 0-3 each after 13 minutes, with Darryl Branagan getting Kilcoo off the mark and brother Eugene also on target twice, while Ciaran Thompson and Charles Gallagher pointed for Naomh Conaill before Eunan Doherty blasted over when a goal was on.
The Glenties club were lumping high ball into the Kilcoo penalty area, but the Down men were adept to the danger and cleared their lines each time.  Their own attacking play was much more fluid, and they soon got into gear with Laverty’s precise movement proving pivotal as they cut apart the Donegal club’s defence several times for the next 15 minutes.
They engineered the next five points in succession, with Johnston brothers Ryan and Jerome both getting on the scoresheet and Paul Devlin chipping over a free.  A marvellous free-flowing move involving Darryl Branagan, Laverty and Jerome Johnston then gave Aidan Branagan the simplest of finishes to an empty net, putting Kilcoo eight up approaching halftime.
Naomh Conaill looked stagnant and in danger of being cut adrift, but they managed to haul themselves back into the game with an Ethan O’Donnell point and two quick-fire goals before the break.
A skied effort from Eoin Waide was tipped down by Kieran Gallagher, and McGuinness rushed in to slot the ball into the net. Moments later came another, again by similar means, with Gallagher winning the ball under the crossbar to lay on Jeaic McKelvey for a first time finish to the roof of the net.
After the restart, Kilcoo were determined to steady the ship, and a pair of points from Ryan McEvoy and Laverty put them back in control. They then doubled their lead to six when Darryl Branagan terrifically interchanged a few passes down the end-line before keeping his cool to fire past Stephen McGrath for his side’s second goal after 39 minutes.
Again though, Naomh Conaill found away to curb the Kilcoo momentum, and the Glenties men’s indomitable spirit came to the fore again as they found the game’s next four points.
Team captain Ciaran Thompson and O’Donnell both landed huge scores to bring the gap back to two as the game entered its final 10 minutes.
The tie was finely poised again when Anthony Thompson knocked over a huge score that conjured a huge roar from the Naomh Conaill faithful, but at the other end the majestic Darryl Branagan ended a 20-minute scoring drought for Kilcoo with a fine score from the right wing.
The hour was now up, and two was the margin again as Naomh Conaill went about throwing the kitchen sink at it.
Kilcoo though were not going to be denied their long-awaited glory, and managed to stave off the last few moments of pressure to finally lay claim to the Ulster title.
Scorers for Kilcoo: Darryl Branagan 1-2, Aidan Branagan 1-0, Eugene Branagan 0-2, Paul Devlin 0-2 (1f), Ryan Johnston 0-2, Ryan McEvoy 0-1 (f), Jerome Johnston 0-1, Conor Laverty 0-1.
Scorers for Naomh Conaill: Charles McGuinness 1-1, Jeaic McKelvey 1-0, Ciaran Thompson 0-3 (3f), Ethan O’Donnell (0-2), Anthony Thompson 0-1, Eunan Doherty 0-1, Eoghan McGettigan 0-1.
KILCOO: Martin McCourt, Niall Branagan, Aidan Branagan, Niall MCEvoy, Shealan Johnston, Aaron Branagan, Darryl Branagan; Aaron Morgan, Dylan Ward; Eugene Branagan, Paul Devlin, Ryan Johnston; Ryan McEvoy, Jerome Johnston, Conor Laverty.
SUBS: Justin Clarke for Eugene Branagan (56), Felim McGreevy for R McEvoy (BC 62)
NAOMH CONAILL: Stephen McGrath; Ultan Doherty, AJ Gallagher, Kevin McGettigan; Ethan O'Donnell, Anthony Thompson, Eoin Waide; Ciaran Thompson, Leo McLoone; Brendan McDyer, Eoghan McGettigan, Eunan Doherty; Jeaic McKelvey, Charles McGuinness, Kieran Gallagher.
SUBS: Marty Boyle for AJ Gallagher (HT), Dermot Molloy for K Gallagher (50), Nathan Byrne for C McGuinness (56), Kieran Gallagher for U Doherty (60)
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tír Eoghan)