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6 talking points after Ballygunner and Kilcoo win on a truly great All-Ireland club final day

The Waterford and Down clubs reached the All-Ireland summit.

Pauric Mahony and Conor Laverty celebrate.
Pauric Mahony and Conor Laverty celebrate.
Image: INPHO

1. Harry Ruddle and Jerome Johnston the All-Ireland heroes

There is only one appropriate place to start when digesting the events at Croke Park on Saturday. Those sensational late goals will be folkloric moments in the history of Ballygunner and Kilcoo, those last-gasp interventions sparking the joy that engulfed both clubs.

Harry Ruddle pounced in the 63rd minute for Ballygunner, a substitute who came on to make the greatest impact possible. Jerome Johnston struck in the 81st minute for Kilcoo, the goal machine who again popped up when his club needed it. Those two were the heroes for their priceless scores in high drama.

But in both cases, the build-up of the goals was striking with the composure on show as Ballygunner (Ian Kenny, Paddy Leavey and Peter Hogan) and Kilcoo (Aaron Branagan and Shealin Johnston) had the creators to prise open the defences.

2. First-time winners rejoice

Those late goals would be a special way to win any All-Ireland final, but even more so when they ensured a major breakthrough in the cases of both clubs. Ballygunner and Kilcoo toasted All-Ireland glory for the first time, Ballygunner the first Waterford side to achieve that feat and Kilcoo only the second Down side after Burren’s triumphs in the ’80s.

They’ve been hard-earned as well. Since 2009 both Ballygunner and Kilcoo have won 10 county and two provincial titles. Ballygunner smashed through the Munster barrier in 2018, Kilcoo did likewise in Ulster in 2019. That’s a lot of harsh lessons learned after they have emerged from their local arenas and they’ve needed to be resilient to keep bouncing back from disappointments.

ronan-power-celebrates-with-the-trophy Ronan Power celebrates Ballygunner's win.

ceilum-doherty-and-ryan-johnston-celebrate-with-the-cup Kilcoo's Ceilum Doherty and Ryan Johnston celebrate with the cup. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

3. Ballygunner’s long-serving stars celebrate

Five Ballygunner players have started throughout their eight-in-a-row sequence of success in Waterford – Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlan, Philip and Pauric Mahony, and Shane O’Sullivan. O’Keeffe, the two Mahonys and O’Sullivan were involved back in 2009 when they lost a Munster final to Newtownshandrum, indeed O’Sullivan can journey back to 2005 when they were also defeated in a provincial decider by the Cork opponents.

So it’s been an exercise in patience for that Ballygunner crew and sticking with the task they had set themselves. Saturday was a reward after over a decade of service as they realised their All-Ireland ambition.

4. Kilcoo’s extra factor

When the whistle sounded at the close of normal time, it shouldn’t have been surprising to consider that Kilcoo were facing into extra-time. That was the scenario they were presented with in the 2020 All-Ireland club final when they lost out to Corofin, and a position they have frequently encountered and embraced in this campaign.

In the Down quarter-final against Carryduff, in the Ulster semi-final against Watty Grahams Glen and in the All-Ireland semi-final against St Finbarr’s, Kilcoo were pushed to extra-time before prevailing. On Saturday they produced the goods again in that additional period, albeit in a staggering manner when they netted that late goal.

5. Dessie Hutchinson proves the key asset 

When Ballygunner had previously met Ballyhale, they only mustered 0-13 in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final. On Saturday that scoring total had been bumped up to 2-17. It’s an impressive improvement, and while their teamplay is more refined and the conditions in Croke Park were more favourable, the critical difference is the presence now of Dessie Hutchinson in their team.

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He gives them a brilliant scoring dimension, as Waterford journalist Tomas McCarthy pointed out afterwards, he has now fired 14-90 across 24 championship games in the past three seasons for the club. On Saturday he didn’t let them down and stood tall in rifling in 1-3, setting up a couple of key points and banging home that vital first goal to ignite their charge.

6. Mickey Moran experiences All-Ireland glory

As wonderful a moment as it was for the Kilcoo players, it felt apt to single out their manager on Saturday. For Mickey Moran this was a superb achievement and a testament to the high-standard of his coaching. After a succession of near misses with Mayo (2006), Slaughtneil (2015 & 2017) and Kilcoo (2020), this was at last a day that he was part of a landmark victory.

Conor Laverty recognised that with the brilliant gesture of bringing Moran up the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the Andy Merrigan Cup. 

conor-laverty-mickey-moran-and-aidan-branagan-lift-the-cup-at-the-end-of-the-game Conor Laverty, Mickey Moran and Aidan Branagan lift the cup after the game. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

BTL 5

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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