Jerome Johnston’s late extra-time goal completes Kilcoo miracle win

Jerome Johnston’s late extra-time goal completes Kilcoo miracle win

Kilcoo (Down) 2-8 Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) 0-13 (aet)

Unbelievable. Kilcoo were dead and buried twice over in this All-Ireland final and still they found a way to breathe and sing and roar when it mattered. In the 80th minute, with Kilmacud two points up, Shealin Johnston made one last run and found one last pass to Ryan Johnston in the Crokes square. His shot was blocked on the line, only for Jerome Johnston to follow up and bury the winner.

The Down champions should have lost this several times. They started terribly, trailed by seven early in the second half and still they somehow survived. It took a fluke of a goal and a monumental freeze by their opponents with the line in sight. But when the game was in the balance, they got the last score of the second halves of normal time and extra-time.

For so long, the worst of it for Kilcoo was that they were responsible for so much of their own downfall. On a still night, in perfect conditions, their shooting in the first half especially was chronically bad – eight wides, including two from perfectly kickable frees. They butchered a huge goal chance too, Conor Laverty slamming his shot directly at Crokes goalkeeper Conor Ferris just eight minutes in.

By contrast, Kilmacud looked to have met their moment impeccably. They knew – as did everyone – exactly the sort of system Kilcoo would bring to the game and they played their way through it with patience and guile. When Kilcoo pulled everyone back into defence, Crokes occasionally just stood in midfield with the ball, daring the Down champions to come out and meet them. When they did, Crokes bided their time and played around them.

Craig Dias was in lordly form in midfield, swishing an early point on the loop and generally knitting everything together. Shane Cunningham and Dara Mullen took brilliant marks under pressure and iced the kick both times. Shane Horan drifted around, insinuating himself into shooting positions and kicking three smart points from three chances.

The upshot of it all was a six-point lead at half-time in normal time for the Dublin champions, 0-8 to 0-2. All around the pitch, Kilmacud were finding pockets and dictating the tempo and it was increasingly impossible to see a way back into things for Kilcoo. And when Dias opened the scoring with a second stylish point three minutes after the restart, it just seemed a matter of ticking off the minutes until Crokes were champions.

The game turned on two goalmouth touches, one at either end. With Crokes rampant, Mullen stole into space down at the Canal End, drew Niall Kane in the Kilcoo goal and dished up a pass for the on-running Dias to palm to the net. But a stunning intervention from Micéal Rooney forced the ball out for a 45 and Kilcoo still had a pulse.

Kilcoo’s Micéal Rooney prevents a goal scored under pressure from Kilmacud Crokes’ Craig Dias during the the All-Ireland Senior Club Football Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Ten minutes later, the game-turning touch came in front of the Hill. Kane sallied up to take a 45 but got a bad connection, his shot hardly rising above head height and arrowing straight into the Crokes square. The slightest of deflections from corner back Ross McGowan took it past Ferris and really out of nowhere, Kilcoo were back in it.

When Laverty followed it up with a canny point soon after, the gap was down to just a point, 0-9 to 1-5. And suddenly, Kilmacud had no rhythm and no purchase on the game. Cian O’Connor came off the bench and found his way into it, stopping the bleeding with a fine score after 53 minutes. But otherwise, they were all at sea.

And Kilcoo kept coming. Paul Devlin had had a shocker in the first half but now he found his range, tick-tocking his frees to inch them closer. And with the last chance of normal time, he drew the Down champions level for the first time since the third minute. Kilcoo, this nutty, gritty little club from Down, just refused to lose.

Into extra-time. O’Connor kept his end up for Kilmacud, stitching two pressure frees. Callum Pearson knocked one in off the post and Crokes had two points to spare with time more or less up.

Until they hadn’t. Ferris got bottled up near the sideline as Crokes tried to run down the last remaining second and eventually had to fly-hack a clearance. Aaron Branagan collected in midfield and sent Shealin Johnston away. They had one chance at it, nothing but a goal

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