THEY understand a thing or two about patience in the village of Kilcoo.
Not for them the measly 16 years that the county team has had to wait between All-Ireland finals.
No, the Magpies drummed their fingers for 73 seasons before finally getting their hands on a 10th senior title in 2009.
“It was a bit of a wait alright,” says club chairman Roger Morgan, with admirable understatement. “The 4th of October last year was an historic day for us because the minors won their county title that same say.”
It is a measure of their dominance in Down football circles back in the club’s glory years between 1917 and 1937 that they now sit just one more success off the top of the roll of honour despite such a barren spell.
A small outfit situated on the northern face of the Mournes, Kilcoo are benefiting from a concerted youth programme that kicked into gear in the 1990s and is only now beginning to pay its richest dividends.
The first sign of regeneration came with a county U16 title in 1996. That was followed by a minor two years later and what had become known as a “yo-yo club”, according to Morgan was again upwardly mobile.
Division Three was the senior’s starting block but they won the top tier in 2003 and again in 2008.
Another county championship quarter-final beckons shortly and the signs beyond that are just as promising.
“There has been a fairly substantial increase in the amount of houses in the parish in recent years and we are doing reasonably well right now with young players still coming through.”
Formed in 1906, the club struggled to get its feet off the ground before claiming its first senior win towards the end of the First World War in 1917. Little did anyone realise it then, but a dynasty had just been born.
They roared loudest in the 20s with five titles that included a four-in-a-row and three more followed in the decade, after even though emigration had begun to scourge the parish.
And then the good times ended. The market leader for so long, Kilcoo spent the rest of the century and more standing still, while competitors like Bryansford, Castlewellan, Burren and then Mayobridge either drew level or passed them by.
Manager Jim McCorry did his best to explain just what it meant to end that drought shortly after Loughlinisland were defeated in the county final at Páirc Esler in Newry.
“It is hard to describe in words what it really means to the local community to win the title. You will understand the relief, joy and excitement, having waited for over 70 years for the title to finally come to Kilcoo.
“There were great scenes of joy and laughter but also tears of joy and sadness as people enjoyed the celebrations but reflected on those who have been involved in the club over the years but were no longer there to share in the great experience.”
The years between title nine and 10 weren’t completely devoid of progress. The club purchased their own premises in 1982 and they have recently competed further work on the playing facilities.
“We were like gypsies there for a while,” said Morgan. “We extended the first field and started work on a second so it is great to be back home now at Owen Roe Park.”
Good times, then, and the presence of Conor Laverty, Aidan Brannigan and Paul Devlin on James McCartan’s squad this Sunday has afforded even further reason to smile, even if none will start.
“It is just sheer excitement around here at the minute,” says Morgan. “People are going crazy for tickets and that’s understandable because this is practically the first time in a generation that Down have been in a final.”
That’s the thing about droughts. They have to end some time.
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