Aidan Kilcoyne closes in on goal

Former Mayo forward Aidan Kilcoyne will play in goal for Knockmore in tomorrow evening’s Mayo SFC final — three years after suffering a horrific knee injury that looked set to end his career.
Aidan Kilcoyne closes in on goal

The 31-year-old, who was man of the match in Mayo’s victory over Cork in the 2006 All-Ireland U21 football final, spent more than two years on the sidelines after dislocating his right knee and suffering extensive ligament damage.

The injury occurred in bizarre circumstances before the start of a club championship quarter-final against Ballintubber on October 6, 2013, when Kilcoyne twisted his leg awkwardly as he sprung away from a wooden bench after a team photograph had been taken.

Now the one-time Mayo forward has been ‘reinvented’ as his club’s goalkeeper, with Knockmore attempting to win their first county senior title since 1997 when they take on defending champions Castlebar Mitchels, at MacHale Park tomorrow evening.

“It’s nice to be back playing and preparing for a county final again,” says Kilcoyne, who played in Knockmore’s attack in their 2002 and 2004 final defeats to Crossmolina and Ballina Stephenites.

“100%, hand on heart, I never thought I’d be in this position again. This is bonus territory for me after everything that’s happened. I’ve been reinvented really.

“To win this weekend would eclipse anything I’ve ever achieved in sport. I’d trade everything else in for a county medal. I’m not belittling my All-Ireland U21 medal — it means the world to me — but to win a championship with some lads that I’ve been playing with since I was six years of age would be really something special.”

Kilcoyne’s transformation from injured forward to a goalkeeper that has kept clean sheets in three of his last four championship games began with a casual conversation in London last Christmas during a club trip.

Shooting the breeze with former Knockmore manager Nigel Reape, Kilcoyne discovered that regular goalkeeper Gerry Higgins had left for America so there would be a vacancy at number one in 2017. The rest is history.

“I was telling Nigel that my knee wouldn’t bend enough to sprint so it looked like my days of playing outfield were over. He asked me if I’d ever considered playing in goal.

“My initial thought was that I’d be a useless goalkeeper! But the conversation planted the seed at the same time.

“I decided after Christmas to give it a shot because, if nothing else, it might help my knee to loosen out a bit. So I chatted to a few of the lads, chatted to our manager Ray McHale, and he said, ‘If you’re willing to try it, let’s try it. Sure you can catch it and kick it anyway.”

Ironically, Kilcoyne made his competitive debut against Ballintubber in the Mayo Secondary League. “It went off without incident,” he says, smiling. “But I can’t say that I haven’t looked back since, because I have.”

His knee has stood up well to the rigours of around 20 matches with Knockmore this season, and the quality and accuracy of Kilcoyne’s kick-outs are a reminder of his prowess as a prolific free-taker during his pomp as a forward.

He’s the first to admit that he’s still learning the goal-keeping trade, but he’s enjoyed putting his injury trials and tribulations behind him and helping Knockmore reach their first county final in seven years.

“Parts of it are still very vivid, things like the initial injury, the pain, and the torture after the operation. Other parts of it are like a dream, it really doesn’t seem like three years ago.

“I would love if the injury hadn’t happened but it did, and I know I’m very lucky to be playing football again. I just want to enjoy it now.”

As befitting a man who was recently appointed as Betfair’s head of marketing for southern Europe, Kilcoyne says Castlebar’s odds of 1/5 to retain the Moclair Cup (Knockmore are 4/1 outsiders) seem fair enough.

“They’re favourites for a reason, they’re a fine side. But do we believe we can win it? Absolutely. Do we have to put in our best performance of the year to have a chance? Yes.

“But we’re going to work hard, we won’t give up, and we’ll battle to the bitter end.”

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