Derrygonnelly will have a long winter to wonder how they were so wasteful as Kilcoo, who did more with less possession, took a big step towards an elusive first AIB Ulster club title.
Five-in-a-row Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly had more than enough chances to reach a first Ulster final — six wides in the second half compared to none by Kilcoo a damning statistic which will haunt them for a long time.
Aaron Branagan’s goal in the 38th minute was all-important at the Athletic Grounds. Conor Laverty’s quick free caught Derrygonnelly cold, and although they battled bravely and closed to within a point, didn’t have enough quality up front to beat the Down champions.
Both sides finished with 14 players, Lee Jones and Jerome Johnston sent-off within a minute of each other for two bookable offences with around six minutes of normal time remaining.
Kilcoo, who lost Ulster finals in 2012 and 2017, are managed by former Slaughtneil boss Mi ckey Moran, and his assistant Conleith Gilligan.
Gilligan accepted the players, who sat back a lot to soak up Derrygonnelly pressure and then broke at pace, did not play anywhere near their best.
“We got a foothold in the game but we didn’t kick on and allowed Derrygonnelly back in and we knew they would be there strong at the end,” said Gilligan.
“For long periods we didn’t play the way we wanted or perform the way we wanted but sometimes games go like that. You can’t dictate the terms.
“From the way Derrygonnelly play we knew it would be that type of game. We just had to grind it out and be there at the end.”
Derrygonnelly to their credit tried to play football but found a well-drilled defensive Kilcoo set-up almost impossible to break down.
They hit 10 wides with six shots dropping short and had one big goal chance in the seventh minute: Shane McGullion broke through the middle but his effort was at a nice height for Kilcoo ‘keeper Martin McCourt who pushed the ball around the post.
Cornerback Jack Love was superb for Derrygonnelly and with some of their forwards shot-shy, he took the responsibility to land a brilliant long-range point in the fifth minute of stoppage time, but it wasn’t enough.
In the next play Ryan Johnston broke on the counterattack to fist over the insurance point.
“We found a very high level of performance,” said Derrygonnelly joint-manager Brendan Rasdale.
“So much clicked today but it didn’t quite all come together. We did a lot of things we wanted, we got after their kickout and put their squeeze on them, but rather than reflect on negative aspects of our play, you could focus on how clinical Kilcoo were.”
A lot of energy and effort put in by Derrygonnelly was not reflected on the scoreboard at the break, when they trailed 0-4 to 0-2.
Garvan McGinley and Kevin Cassidy had them two points up after four minutes but they failed to score again in the half.
Kilcoo did just enough. They were patient, organised and way more experienced in the wily ways of the Ulster club championship.
Frees from Ryan McEvoy and Paul Devlin plus points from Aaron Branagan and Jerome Johnston, the latter’s a perfect thump over the bar from around 45 metres, gave them a handy cushion, which they built upon when Aaron Branagan scored the only goal of the game with a near-post finish.
Derrygonnelly had to work extra hard for scores by Stephen McGullion and Declan Cassidy but Kilcoo always seemed to have a little in reserve, Eugene Branagan kicking a point while Conall Jones missed a couple of relatively straight-forward frees on a day Derrygonnelly will want to forget.
Scorers for Kilcoo: A Branagan (1-1), R McEvoy (0-2, 2f), P Devlin (0-2, 2f), E Branagan, R Johnston, J Johnston (0-1 each).
Scorers for Derrygonnelly: G Jones (0-3, 2f), J Love, G McGinley, D Cassidy, Stephen McGullion, K Cassidy (0-1 each), C Jones 0-1 (f)
KILCOO: M McCourt; N Branagan, Aidan Branagan, N McEvoy; Anthony Morgan, Aaron Branagan, D Branagan; Aaron Morgan, D Ward; E Branagan, P Devlin, R Johnston; R McEvoy, J Johnston, C Laverty.
Subs: J Clarke for Morgan (47), J McClean for Aaron Morgan (54), S Johnston for N McEvoy (57)
DERRYGONNELLY HARPS: J Kelly; J Love, T Daly, M Jones; E McHugh, Shane McGullion, G McGinley; R Jones, C Jones; L Jones, Stephen McGullion, D Cassidy; G Jones, K Cassidy, G McGovern.
Subs: G McKenna for McGovern (42), R McHugh for K Cassidy (46), N Gallagher for McGinley (56), A McKenna for E McHugh (60).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh)