AIB Club SFC: Kilcoo win after extra-time
AIB All Ireland Club SFC Semi-Final
KILCOO 1-17 ST FINBARR'S 1-13
By Paul Keane
Kilcoo's AIB All-Ireland club football title dream remains alive but just about after braving an epic semi-final encounter with a lion heart display in Portlaoise.
Paul Devlin led the scoring with 0-5 for the Down and Ulster champions but this was the ultimate win for the collective with 10 different scorers throughout as the beaten 2020 finalists dug so deep to return to the final.
Daryl Branagan was terrific too, bouncing back from an error which led to the St Finbarr's goal to play a key role in the win and claim the Man of the Match award.
But another landmark win for the Mickey Moran managed side threatened to elude them when, with the scores tied at 1-10 apiece late in normal time, a free-kick to potentially win the game for Kilcoo was overturned due to an incident that led to Aidan Branagan's dismissal.
Devlin was preparing himself for the kick when Branagan tussled with a St Finbarr's player and was shown a straight red card, leading to referee Brendan Cawley cancelling the free and the game ultimately ended in stalemate.
Kilcoo were immediately restored to 15 players for extra-time and dominated the additional 20 minutes or so, outscoring the Munster champions by 0-8 to 0-3 with Devlin, goalkeeper Niall Kane and Ceilum Doherty all striking a brace of points each.
St Finbarr's lost defender Jamie Burns to a red card late in extra-time though the game was all but up at that stage.
A cagey but full blooded encounter swung in Kilcoo's favour initially with Ryan Johnston helping himself to an early 1-1 and hinting that it may be a relatively straightforward afternoon for the Down men.
Cillian-Myers Murray, wearing number 23 and one of two late additions to the Barrs lineup, had opened the scoring with a point but Johnston's 1-1 blast left the Ulster men firmly on the front foot.
In truth, Johnston's fifth minute goal was a soft concession from a St Finbarr's perspective as the Kilcoo attacker was in acres of space close to goal when picked out by Jerome Johnston with a hand-pass from the left endline.
A couple of Devlin wides prevented Kilcoo from extending their advantage and St Finbarr's hung in there with pointed frees from Eoin McGreevy and top scorer Steven Sherlock.
Sherlock finished the day with 0-10 and his third point from a free in the 27th minute left the minimum between the teams, 1-3 to 0-5.
It was tight and tense stuff with a couple of big hits, yielding three first-half bookings.
St Finbarr's took command with a 28th minute goal that owed everything to their industry in defence.
Eoin Comyns timed his tackle to perfection to steal possession away from Daryl Branagan as he attempted to carry the ball out of the centre of Kilcoo's defence.
Comyns then fed Sherlock who picked out McGreevy and the attacker had the presence of mind to round the goalkeeper and slot home from the left, leaving the Barrs 1-5 to 1-3 clear at half-time.
Remarkably, Paul O'Keeffe's side didn't score again from play until Colm Barrett's 77th minute score, relying on Sherlock to keep them in the game with a series of points from converted frees.
Kilcoo dominated the third quarter, reeling off four points in a row at one stage through Sheelan Johnston, Devlin, Kane and Eugene Branagan to take a 1-7 to 1-6 lead.
But this one was destined to go to the wire and the sides were level on five occasions in the closing 20 minutes or so.
They were tied at 1-10 apiece when Kilcoo won a free which Devlin would have fancied scoring from about 30 metres out on the right but Branagan's act of petulance denied Devlin the opportunity and extra-time followed.
Kilcoo brought all of their big game experience to bear in this period and ground out a memorable win to secure a February 12 final place.
Scorers for Kilcoo: Paul Devlin 0-5 (0-2f), Ryan Johnston 1-1, N Kane 0-3 (0-2f, 0-1 45), Daryl Branagan 0-2, Ceilum Doherty 0-2, Eugene Branagan 0-1, Sheelan Johnston 0-1, Anthony Morgan 0-1, Miceal Rooney 0-1, Aaron Branagan 0-1.
Scorers for St Finbarr's: Steven Sherlock 0-10 (0-10f), Eoin McGreevy 1-1 (0-1f), Cillian Myers-Murray 0-1, Colm Barrett 0-1.
Kilcoo: Niall Kane; Niall Branagan, Ryan McEvoy, Aaron Branagan; Miceal Rooney, Daryl Branagan, Eugene Branagan; Dylan Ward, Aaron Morgan; Ceilum Doherty, Jerome Johnston, Sheelan Johnston; Conor Laverty, Ryan Johnston, Paul Devlin.
Subs: Anthony Morgan for Laverty 43, Aidan Branagan for Morgan 57. Justin Clarke replaces red carded Aidan Branagan for e/t, Laverty for Ryan Johnston 69, MacDarragh Hynes for Eugene Branagan 70+1, Tiernan Fettes for Rooney h/t e/t,
St Finbarr's: John Kerins; Sam Ryan, Jamie Burns, Colm Scully; Colin Lyons, Billy Hennessy, Alan O'Connor; Ian Maguire, Eoin Comyns; Denis O'Brien, Steven Sherlock, Brian Hayes; Cillian Myers-Murray, Eoin McGreevy, Colm McCrickard.
Subs: Colm Barrett for O'Brien 41, Enda Dennehy for Myers-Murray 41, Michael Shields for McGreevy 51, Adam Lyne for McCrickard 58, Luke Hannigan for Comyns 60+1. Cian Walsh for Hayes 69, Bill O'Connell for Scully 69, McGreevy for O'Connor 76.
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).