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Driving force: Daryl Branagan’s dynamic all-action style can bolster Kilcoo’s bid to land All-Ireland Club glory

Driving force: Daryl Branagan’s dynamic all-action style can bolster Kilcoo’s bid to land All-Ireland Club glory

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Corofin (Galway/Connacht

Corofin (Galway/Connacht

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

Driving force: Daryl Branagan’s dynamic all-action style can bolster Kilcoo’s bid to land All-Ireland Club glory

It was perhaps the passionate post-match observation from dynamic wing-back Daryl Branagan that best encapsulated just what winning the Ulster Club football title for the first time last month really meant to the people of Kilcoo.

"When you see grown men coming up to hug you with tears in their eyes, this shows you just what the victory over Naomh Conaill meant to them," declared Branagan.

It is safe to assume, then, that should the Down and Ulster champions get the better of Corofin in tomorrow's All-Ireland Club final, Croke Park will witness an outpouring of emotion that could rival that at any All-Ireland inter-county decider.

Six Down titles on the trot may have formed a staple diet of success for the Magpies until they were relieved of their trophy by Burren in 2018 before regaining it last year, but all the while there remained the irksome worry that they had failed to prove themselves on the provincial stage.

All that changed when, in his role as a footballing messiah, Mickey Moran plotted a first provincial triumph that was to prove the precursor to a stunning All-Ireland semi-final win over Ballyboden St Enda's, which was accompanied by the team's passport into tomorrow's decider against reigning All-Ireland kingpins Corofin.

In redrawing the Kilcoo landscape, Moran has lit the fuse for what could prove to be the most memorable occasion in the club's history.

And no one has pledged to do everything possible to make this happen more emphatically than the passionate Branagan.

It was his goal at a crucial stage in the second half that laid the groundwork for his team's win over Naomh Conaill, and when he repeated the feat against Ballyboden St Enda's, his personal stock soared.

No surprise, then, that he goes into tomorrow's game as the latest winner of the Quinn Building Products Ulster GAA Writers' Association monthly merit award, an unexpected bonus from his perspective but a deserved personal accolade from the viewpoint of those who appreciate excellence.

Tomorrow, Branagan and his comrades-in-arms will confront their biggest ever obstacle, comforted by the generous infusion of self-belief bestowed by the wily Moran and spurred on by a ravenous desire to achieve the ultimate glory.

To do this they will have to shackle a Corofin side that is rich on experience, lavish on skills and high on optimism - hardly surprising in view of their recent track record.

With Daithi Burke and Kieran Fitzgerald underpinning their defence, Gary Sice still a human dynamo in terms of linking the play at 35 years of age, Liam Silke and Ian Burke supreme scoring aces and Michael Farragher and Ronan Steede lending relentless support up front, Corofin's all-round armoury is impressive.

Yet Kilcoo, for all their past misgivings, have no intention of being cast as country cousins.

"We are going there to give it everything," vowed Branagan.

"We have put in a massive effort to get this far and we owe it to ourselves, our management team and our followers to be the best we can be on the day."

From goalkeeper Martin McCourt out, Kilcoo comprise an amalgam of battle-hardened experience and precocious youth.

Ryan McEvoy and Aaron Branagan form the central spine of their defence, Aidan Branagan and Aaron Morgan can impose their authority at midfield, Ryan Johnston's ball-carrying can prove a particularly potent weapon up front and Conor Laverty and Jerome Johnston can pirate scores with an innate poise.

Lob in the cultured free-taking of Paul Devlin, the gung-ho spirit of Dylan Ward and the opportunism of Shealan Johnston and you have a veritable cocktail of skills.

This will be dependent, of course, on Kilcoo keeping their cool, protecting their possession, tracking back constantly and converting their scoring chances when they arise.

It's a tall order indeed, but then this is the cutting edge of sport, a match in which the chips will be down.

If Daryl Branagan's reaction to the acclamation of his team's fans following that spectacular Ulster Club triumph has been embedded in the memory bank, then his declaration in relation to tomorrow's showdown is sure to make a similar impact.

"We are prepared to put our bodies on the line out on that Croke Park pitch. To win the All-Ireland Club title would mean the world to us," he insisted.

You surely cannot ask for more than that from any team.

Belfast Telegraph