Footballers Paul Devlin of Kilcoo, Down, left, and Dara Mullin of Kilmacud Crokes, Dublin, pictured ahead of one of #TheToughest showdowns of the year, as the two sides go head-to-head in the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final this Saturday, February 12th at 5pm.
Footballers Paul Devlin of Kilcoo, Down, left, and Dara Mullin of Kilmacud Crokes, Dublin, pictured ahead of one of #TheToughest showdowns of the year, as the two sides go head-to-head in the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final this Saturday, February 12th at 5pm. 

Preview: AIB All-Ireland Club SFC Final


AIB All-Ireland Club SFC final

Kilcoo (Down) v Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin), Croke Park, 5pm (TG4)

By John Harrington

Saturday’s AIB All-Ireland Club SFC Final looks set to be a tight, tactical battle.

Both teams are very well organised defensively and like to monopolise possession and probe patiently in attack, so it will be all about who executes these similar game-plans that bit better.

Kilcoo’s know-how could be a factor. They’ve far more experience of provincial and All-Ireland campaigns than a Kilmacud team that has blooded a lot of young players in the past couple of years.

Key forward, Paul Devlin, believes the lessons learned from losing to Corofin after extra-time in the 2020 All-Ireland Final will stand to them this time around.

“Last time it was our first time being there, and people were probably just in awe of the whole situation, but as players we have already been there, we have done the whole hype about it, it’s more about focusing on the team, and focusing on performance, and producing the goods on the field,” says Devlin.

“We have definitely learned from our previous time in Croke Park, so hopefully this time around the preparation will be a lot quieter in terms of getting ready for the game.

“It's just probably the occasion of the whole thing. Maybe people not being used to the surroundings. The big wide pitch, the posts can sometimes be deceiving in terms of the areas you're shooting from.

“You have to adapt as much as you can. At the end of the day, it's a game of football on a pitch. If you start getting carried away, and looking into stands, then you're not fully focused.

“Definitely from the final against Corofin two years ago, we've definitely learnt a lot from that, and hopefully we can take it into this weekend.”

Kilcoo manager, Mickey Moran.
Kilcoo manager, Mickey Moran.

Under Mickey Moran, Kilcoo have become an extremely well-drilled side. They have a kick-out strategy Stephen Cluxton would be proud of, their running game is hard to resist in attack, and they defend tenaciously in numbers.

Kilmacud Crokes forward, Dara Mullin, is acutely aware how difficult a nut to crack the Down and Ulster champions will be.

“They're very strong all over the park, defensively and offensively,” says Mullin.

“Defensively they don't give much away at all, they're very well structured. Coming right from their kick outs. I think they were 100% in their kick-outs against St Finbarr's the last day.

“So that will be a huge challenge for us, and then offensively they have pace all over the place . There's threats everywhere.

“You only have to look at their spread of scorers the last day, and think three of the starting backs scored. Huge challenges for us but one we're looking forward to.”

Patience on the ball is a hallmark of this Kilcoo team under manager Mickey Moran.

They rarely give possession away cheaply, and their ability to constantly recycle it and change the point of attack if an initial thrust doesn’t work means they more often than not eventually tire opposition defences and create an opening.

“Something that Mickey definitely kneels down on is to keep the ball as long as possible and be efficient when you get into the scoring areas,” says Devlin.

“Football seems to be going that way, you do see a lot more possession based teams, working back, and working it through the lines as such.”

At the other end of the field it requires something special to break Kilcoo down, so there’s no getting away from the fact that being without the injured Paul Mannion is a big blow for Kilmacud.

The flip side of that coin is that they’ve managed to beat both Naas and Padraig Pearses without him, and that’s thanks to players like Mullin and his colleagues in the Crokes attack raising their own level.

The same will be required again on Saturday if they’re to find a way to win this match.

"There's been more of an even spread of scores around the place and everyone's just kind realizing that they need to step up to the plate and take on a little bit more responsibility in his absence,” says Mullin.

“We have more of a spread of scorers and that's helping the team get the right results.

“He is such a quality player that most of the times when he gets the ball a score comes off from himself or through someone else. He's been a huge player for us in the past. But I suppose come Saturday, as the six forwards we're just trying to get as many scores as we can and help the team to get the right result.”