Kilcoo’s enchanting story has one more intriguing chapter to be written, and it will be penned in Croke Park when they meet defending champions Corofin in the All-Ireland Club SFC final.
Their persistence finally earned them a maiden provincial title late last year, and they have backed that breakthrough up by qualifying for the national decider at the first attempt, by virtue of their sheer courage, hunger and desire.
The hand of the great Mickey Moran could be seen in much of the strategy which carried them to a three point s win over Ballyboden at Kingspan Breffni, but the importance of the clincal execution of goal chances, one in each half, was crucial to this success.
Ryan Johnston and Daryl Branagan rifled their efforts to the net to give them the cushion they needed, but it was their heroics at the back in the closing stages that carried them through, and in the end, an eight points haul from the Basquel brothers, Ryan and Colm, was not enough to save the Dublin men.
Cathal Flaherty kept danger man Conor Laverty quiet for much of the first half, but the driving runs from deep of Ryan Johnston gave Kilcoo an effective point of attack as they gained an edge in the opening stages.
However, they could manage must a Paul Devlin score from that early pressure, and the Dublin men took the lead in the tenth minute when veteran Conal Keaney fired over a point to cap a well worked move, after Ryan Basquel had converted a free.
Both sides retreated deep into their own half when not in possession, with Michael Darragh Macauley doing all his best work close to his goal, whiule Aidan Branagan provided solid cover for the Down champions’ rearguard.
Niall McEvoy and Paul Devlin were on target with placed balls as Kilcoo went level at the end of the opening quarter, and Laverty made a vital intervention with the deft flick which sent Ryan Johnston in to drive the ball low to the net in the 21st minute.
The Ulster men grew in confidence from that major strike, going four clear with a long range Aaron Morgan score, but Ballyboden came strong ibn stoppage time, forcing their opponents back and winning the frees that the Basquel brothers converted.
It was 1-5 to 0-6 to the men from the Mournes at the turnaround, and with the wind in their backs in the second half, Ballyoden went on the attack.
Macauley spotted the run of Kieran Kennedy to set the wing back up for a point, but they missed chances to go level, goalkeeper Gogan failing with two ‘45s, and Kilcoo’s two points advantage was restored by Devlin in the 32nd minute.
The Ulster title-holders stepped up the intensity, forcing a series of turnovers, and they were rewarded at the end of the third quarter with a second goal, smashed home by Daryl Brangan, one of five brothers in the team, after an attempted point had come back off a post.
Dubs star Macauley’s afternoon was brought to an early conclusion by a 50th minute black card as frustration began to show in the ranks.
Kilcoo’s attempts at game management carried a high level of risk, and they were pinned back by a Ballyboden side growing in desperation.
Colm Basquel swept over a couple of frees, with sub Warren Egan also hitting the target to keep their dream alive, but vital defensive interventions from Aaron Branagan and Jerome Johnston held Kilcoo’s challenge together.
M McCourt; N Branagan, A Branagan, R McEvoy (0-3, 2f); E Branagan, Aidan Branagan, N McEvoy; J Johnston, Aaron Branagan; A Morgan (0-1), D Branagan (1-0), R Johnston (1-0); S Johnston (0-1), P Devlin (0-3, 2f), C Laverty.
M Rooney for Morgan (h-t), J Clarke for D Branagan (BC 54), F McGreevy for Ward (63), A Morgan for Laverty (BC 66)
D Gogan; B Dwan, S Clayton, C Flaherty; K Kennedy (0-1), R McDaid, B Bobbett; MD Macauley, D O’Mahoney; D O’Reilly, C Basquel (0-3, 3f), A Flood; R McGarry, R Basquel (0-5, 4f), C Keaney (0-1).
A Waters for Bobbett (35), T Hayes for McGarry (37), D Nelson for Waters (BC 39), W Egan (0-1) for Flood (46), J Holland for Macauley (BC 50), S O Maidin for O’Reilly (52)
D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).