Ramor manager Ray Cole

Cole looking forward to the challenge

Damien Donohoe

Cavan’s senior champions will welcome Kilcoo to Kingspan Breffni for the Ulster club championship quarter final this weekend. Having got the better of Gowna after a replay Ramor will get the chance to measure themselves against one of the strongest club teams in Ulster over the last decade.

Kilcoo captured their 10th senior championship in 11 years by overcoming rivals Burren in the Down senior club championship final on November 7. Jerome Johnston’s early goal set up the Magpies for a two point win. They displayed much of the flair and fluency which had been absent earlier in the campaign, with Man of the Match Ryan Johnston scoring four fabulous points from play and younger brother Shealan tagging on another two before going off injured.

It is a third county title in a row for Kilcoo under the management of Mickey Moran and Conleith Gilligan. For Ramor manager Ray Cole this is his third season in charge with three county final appearances also. In lifting the Oliver Plunkett Cup Ray completed a rare double having won a senior championship with his club as both a player and a manger.

When the celebrations came to an end, Ramor got back to training and refocussed.

“Everyone is in great form and mad to get going again. It’s been a great response from the lads.” Cole told The Anglo-Celt.

He says Ulster wasn’t in his sights at the start of their championship campaign.

“I wasn’t thinking that far ahead, but I always said that if I did get a chance to manage Ramor and we did win a final, that we’d give Ulster a crack because teams in fairness haven’t. I think that has a lot to do with there being so many different winners and then you hadn’t much time (to prepare in the past). Sometimes you only had a week and then had to go again in Ulster.

“Luckily enough this year we probably should have had four weeks but we have three weeks instead, which is piles of time to get organised. You’d like to put your best foot forward in Ulster because after winning your county, and our boys have won a couple, it’s time to take the next step.”

Remarkably, winning Ulster is a giant step no other Cavan senior club has taken in the provincial competition that’s been running for over half a century.

In preparation terms, Ramor have pitted themselves against the best of their neighbours in challenge games.

“We’ve played Scotstown (Monaghan champions) fairly regular, Mullinalaughta (Longford champions) fairly regular, and we played St Jude’s in a great game up in Dublin before the championship started. The two of us got to the finals but they were just unlucky in the end there as they didn’t get over the line.

“We’d always go and look for teams that were that step above us to go and see where we were. It was just to get the boys use to it if we did get the chance.”

In the Down county final Kilcoo beat Burren 1-12 to 0-13 with Jerome Johnston’s first half goal proving crucial. Kilcoo are the current Ulster senior club champions and are looking to go one step further than 2019 when they lost the All-Ireland final to Corofin after extra-time.

So what do Ramor know about Kilcoo?

“Mickey Moran is a serious trainer so any team he’s with is going to be good. They’re Ulster champions as well and are a very experienced team, with a couple of young lads mixed into it.

“It’s going to take a big push to beat them but look, the boys are up for it so we’ll see how we go.”

In the county final the Joshston brothers of Jerome, Ryan and Shealan accounted for 1-6 of the Kilcoo total so they’ll have targets on their backs on Saturday evening.

“We seen earlier this year how good Shealan Johnston was with the Down Under 20s and we watched a video of the county final and he can travel. They’ve got piles of pace and it’s a family affair with the Johnstons and the Branagans. They’re well organised and are used to playing with each other.”

With Shealan Johnston going off injured at half-time in the Down final it’s unclear if he will line out on Saturday. However, the Cavan champions report a clean bill of health.

“At the moment everybody is flying fit and fingers crossed everybody will get through the week without any injuries. We’re looking forward to it because after putting in a good hard year’s training it’s nice to have something to go on to, it’s not just all over.”

With the game part of a double header in Kingspan Breffni, will home advantage play a part in the outcome?

“We were very lucky to play all our championship games this year in Kingspan Breffni so of course it is, but Kilcoo have played there too so it will not be as new to them as you’d think. They played Ballyboden there in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final so it will not be new to them. But for us it’s no big deal to go there, you could call it our home pitch for the last six or eight weeks.

“I hope the support comes out because one thing Kilcoo bring is a good support and very vocal supporters so I’d hope we definitely get our crew out, the Ramor supporters and I hope the rest of Cavan come out and give us a cheer on to help us get over the line.”