“You certainly get value for money when you watch Kilrea”, was the comment of James Kielt when I was chatting to him during the summer. Kielt was spot on. Kilrea’s championship has been packed full of drama. Paul Morgan’s goalkeeping heroics against Magherafelt, the sendings off against Ballinderry, Emmet McKay’s penalty save against Banagher and Benny Quigg’s winning goal against Slaughtneil. That’s not even mentioning their spirited second half showing against Loup.
I have to admit, when they went down to 12 men against Ballinderry in the championship and lost the game, I reckoned that Banagher would end their season. They were in disarray. Ballinderry could absorb three suspensions to central players but not Kilrea. How wrong I was. I followed the Banagher game on twitter from a weekend break in Letterkenny and the availability of James Kielt and the fashion in which Peter Doherty regrouped his troops after the Lavey debacle, proved a masterstroke.
At Glenullin in the quarter final, Slaughtneil were in control of the game, but Benny Quigg’s goal proved the winner. The team I thought would have been an easy touch for Banagher had now put the Emmet’s out of the championship.
Driving home from work through Kilrea the past week, it’s hard not to notice the county final fever that has gripped the town. It reminds me of Slaughtneil in 2008. That year we played 7 championship games including two replays, but Ballinderry spoiled the end to our season. Our dramatic championship journey was in vain.
This Sunday, Kilrea will take the field for the first time in a county final. Kevin McGuckin will lead Ballinderry out of the other dressing room. As he jogs onto Celtic Park, joining him will be Conlan, McCusker, Conway, Gilligan and Muldoon from the team that ten years ago took the Derry title on route to the All-Ireland.
As Fabian Muldoon gets them into the warmup, they will be joined by Kevin ‘Moss’ McGuckin, Conor Wilkinson, Michael McIver, Martin Harney and Collie Devlin. Also factor in Connor Nevin, Ryan Scott and Declan Bell who are now seasoned championship players. The Shamrock’s have a great blend, with Ryan Bell, Dermot McGuckin, Aaron Devlin and Tony Martin the newest players in the mix.
Against Dungiven in the semi final, Ballinderry were cruising but took their foot off the pedal and gave them a lifeline into the game. With the game heading for the finale, the sides were level. Ballinderry, as they so often have done in the past, found an extra level and pushed on to win by five points.
They have done it so often. In 2006 v Slaughtneil at Glen, in 2008 v Slaughtneil in the final, in 2010 v Slaughtneil at Bellaghy, 2010 v Lavey at Greenlough and in 1995 in the Ulster Club against Errigal Ciaran. All stewards to end of match positions then enter Raymond Bell with two goals to win the game on a damp October Sunday at Ballinascreen. They never seem to panic; it’s a great trait to have. I remember ex-Crossmaglen manager Donal Murtagh saying that the first half was about making sure you were in the game, the second half is when you win it.
On Sunday when the game is in the mix will Ballinderry’s guile and experience prevail over the fresh new kids on the block? Or will Kilrea follow on from Coleraine, Loup and Slaughtneil by winning a title with a team with a relatively low average age? The average age of Ballinderry’s starting 15 for Sunday (from Derry Post likely lineups) is 26, Kilrea’s is 22.
Of the 8 people who predicted the game for this blog, we had one draw, one Kilrea win and six saying that the John McLaughlin will be heading for Shamrock Park. Here are the views of the pundits.
Paddy Downey (Bellaghy) - In my opinion Ballinderry will win John McLaughlin this year. I think that their greater experience at this stage will be key and also the fact that they have already defeated this up and coming Kilrea team in the championship gives them that extra belief and could put some doubt into the minds of the Kilrea players.
Ballinderry will not want to experience the same hurt as last year. Throughout the knock out stages of this year’s championship, whenever Ballinderry have been asked the question they have come out the other side with relative ease and in my opinion in Kevin 'Moss' McGuckin they have the player of the championship this year. I have no doubt that Kilrea will be contesting championship finals for the years to come but I just think that Ballinderry will shade this one in what could be a case of having to lose one before you win one for this group of Kilrea players. Prediction: Ballinderry
Enda Gormley (Glen) - Both sides will be putting a lot of emphasis on the midfield battle going into this game. Ballinderry will be asking why their midfield has faded badly in the large periods in the second half of the Bellaghy and Dungiven games while Kilrea have shown a marked improvement in this area in their last two games.
This for me is mainly down to a vast improvement in James Kielt’s game as he seems to have taken his work rate to a completely different level recently. For Kilrea to win they will need a much better return from their full forward line which would lack both the ball winning ability and creativity of Ballinderry’s attack. For me the greater potency of the Ballinderry attack will decide the game in their favour. Prediction: Ballinderry.
Mickey Drumm (Lavey) - It’s hard to look past Ballinderry for this one. They’ll be smarting from last year’s defeat to Coleraine so overconfidence shouldn’t be a problem. Their side has plenty of experience and have introduced a few younger players this year and they seem to be doing well.
Kilrea are seriously fit so if they can keep it close going into the last 10 they’ll be in with a great shout. Prediction: Ballinderry by 3.
Joe McCloskey (Slaughtneil) - Championship dictates that the two best teams reach the final, and on the evidence of their performances, this is probably true of this year’s final. Both teams will enter Celtic Park with an abundance of confidence that they can ferry the John McLaughlin cup back to their respective parishes.
The Kielt brothers are obviously the stand out players for Kilrea, but for me, it has been the half forward line that has laid the foundations for their victories this year. The Shamrocks suffered a blow with the loss of James Conway, but Kevin Moss [McGuckin] has more than made up for his absence with some powerful displays. The exuberance of a first final may drive Kilrea to the title, however, I feel that Ballinderry have a slicker attacking forward line which should see them edge it. Prediction: Ballinderry
Gerard O’Kane (Glenullin) – The final on Sunday is something I am really looking forward to. Like last year it is new territory for one of the teams and I suppose this also helps to keep public interest pretty high.
On the subject matter of who will win, it is a real difficult one. Ballinderry have the greater scoring threat from play, their forward line has been going really well, they would have the greater physical power than a younger Kilrea side and undoubtedly have greater experience.
Taking all that into consideration it obviously points to a Ballinderry victory, however, having been in the position before that Kilrea are in, and I know it is an over used term in Gaelic football, hunger for Kilrea has to be a massive factor. For a club never to have won it, to be in their first final it has to be a massive driving factor for them.
That is not to say the likes of Kevin McGuckin, Enda, Deets, who have 4/5 medals don’t want it badly either and after getting beat last year it might also spur them on too so all in all it makes for an interesting day. At the risk of being accused of sitting on the fence (or offending any of my mothers side of the family in Kilrea as she is from Kilrea but is now a Glen woman) I am going to say it will take a second day to separate these 2 teams. Prediction: Draw
Richard Ferris (Drumsurn) - Most experts will go for Ballinderry on the experience of their side but this young Kilrea team will love the challenge come Sunday, having had lots of success at underage levels these boys know how to win big games.
The Shamrocks are favourites and rightly so with players of the quality of Kevin McGuckin, Enda Muldoon, Conleith Gilligan and probably the player of the championship to date Kevin Moss McGuckin. Add to this the younger talent Aaron Devlin, Tony Martin and the new kid on the block Ryan Bell it will take a big performance from the men from the banks of the Bann to defeat Ballinderry.
Kilrea will look to the Kielt brothers, the McWilliams, Enda McAleese who I think is going well this year. The Pearses have young guns too with Benny Quigg, Paddy McNeill, Joe Morgan and Tieran Rafferty all class players.
It’s all on the day and Celtic Park is the place you want to play and you want to be there to play on County Final day for your club, not many get the chance. Both teams are well prepared by two very experienced managers Martin McKinless and Peter Doherty. So a great game is expected for a number of reasons, will experience out do youth. Prediction: the young guns this time - Kilrea to cross the Glenshane with John McLaughlin.
Neil McCloy (Loup) - An intriguing final between an experienced Ballinderry team and an emerging Kilrea team. I believe Ballinderry will be victorious Mal. I feel they will be smarting from defeat last year and will have learned from that valuable lesson. I also feel that they have too many quality forwards that will be hard to contain on the wide space of Celtic Park. Sometimes you have to lose a final before winning one and therefore Ballinderry get my nod. Prediction: Ballinderry
Paddy Bradley (Glenullin) - Ballinderry are hot favourites for the final and rightly so as they have consistently been the top team in Derry for 5-6 years now. After losing the final last year I don’t see complacency as a problem and they will be keen to get their hands on John McLaughlin again after last years disappointment.
Kilrea have had luck on their side to date. Magherafelt missed a penalty, Banagher had a goal disallowed, Loup a man sent off at a crucial stage. You need luck to win championships. Had we had luck we could possibly have won another 1 or 2. I think the game will be fairly close for the majority of it but in the end I think Ballinderry have better forwards and expect this to pull them through in the end. Prediction: Ballinderry by 4.
Thanks to the pundits for expressing their views. Sunday will answer many questions, or will Gerard O’Kane be spot on with a draw.