St Gall’s, proud All-Ireland club champions two years ago and holders of the Antrim senior football crown on 11 occasions in the past 12 years, were brought to their knees in an enthralling Ulster club semi-final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh yesterday.
Not only did Down champions Kilcoo produce a seismic shock, they did so in the most dramatic manner triumphing as they did in a nerve-tingling finish having lost a player during the last quarter at a stage when they trailed their illustrious opponents by three points (0-8 to 0-5).
But Jim McCorry’s side revealed character, courage and skill above and beyond the call of duty to chisel out the sweetest victory in the club’s entire history.
Fesity, combative and hardworking throughout, Kilcoo punched above their weight, ferocious tackling, relentless support play and unselfishness underpinning a herculean effort.
Karl Stewart, though, flashed an early warning by sweeping over three sublime points from play that eased St Gall’s into a 0-4 to 0-3 lead at the halfway stage, Darragh O’Hanlon, Paul Devlin and Conor Laverty helping to sustain Kilcoo’s vibrant challenge by landing scores.
The Antrim kingpins appeared to have taken a stranglehold in the third quarter when a brace of points from Kevin Niblock and another from Michael Pollock ushered them into a 0-8 to 0-5 lead.
But Kilcoo set about scripting one of the most romantic chapters in the history of the competition. Ten minutes of normal time remained when their full-back Niall McEvoy was red-carded but this proved the cue for his team to scale new heights.
Scarcely had McEvoy taken his seat in the stand than a flowing Kilcoo movement culminated in substitute Sean Devlin whipping in the only goal of the game – and this was just the start of the drama.
Two minutes later O’Hanlon converted to a free to nose Kilcoo into a 1-6 to 0-8 lead and their vision of glory was translated into spectacular reality when Ger McEvoy and Paul Devlin swooped for injury-time points that sent the Down outfit marching into the provincial decider.
ST GALLS: C Kerr; P Veronica, A McClean, M Kelly; A Healy, S Kelly (0-1), T O’Neill; S Burke, A Gallagher; N O’Neill, K Niblock (0-3), Kieran McGourty; C J McGourty (0-1 free), M Pollock (0-1), K Stewart (0-4).
Subs: Kieran McGourty for Burke (43 mins), C Brady for Veronica (58 mins).
KILCOO: S Kane; N Branagan, N McEvoy, D Branagan; S O’Hanlon, A Branagan, G McEvoy; P Greenan, D Kane ; J Johnston, P Devlin (0-3, 0-2 frees), D O’Hanlon (0-3); C Laverty, (0-1) A Devlin, G McEvoy (0-1).
Subs: R Johnston (0-1) for A Devlin (38 mins), S Devlin for G McEvoy (48 mins), A Devlin for J Johnston (62 mins).
Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone).