All-Ireland Club SFC Final
When Emlyn Mulligan first heard that Mickey Moran was coming to manage Leitrim, he got light-headed with excitement.
“I always remember at the end of 2008 when I heard on the radio that Mickey was coming. I literally almost crashed the car!” laughed Mulligan.
Moran was coming to another Connacht county, having recently brought Mayo to the 2006 All-Ireland final before an abrupt departure. His stock was high back then, but as he leads Kilcoo into today’s All-Ireland Club final in Croke Park against Kilmacud Crokes, he has probably never been as appreciated as he is now.
Mulligan believes Moran got a raw deal off Mayo, but wasn’t prepared to give them any sympathy once he witnessed the manager’s commitment.
“To travel that distance for three years or so, he was heading off every day at around 1pm in the afternoon to head down to training in Cloone, in Leitrim. He was getting home at around midnight,” he marvelled.
“What would he have been getting out of Leitrim? Not a whole pile. But you could see the passion he had for the game, the drive to improve us.”
He was there for three seasons from 2009 to 2011 before a health scare led to him stepping down with plans already in place for the 2012 campaign.
When he arrived, he found a football culture that was a little rough and ready. He and his managerial partner, the late John Morrison, set about refining that.
“Mickey and John, it was all about coaching. From the simplest little things, fist-passing, kick-passing, it was just relentless in them in terms of repeat, repeat, repeat,” said Mulligan.
“He implemented stuff from the throw-up to sideline balls, his attention to detail was on point.
“The type of people we had in our county, it wasn’t something we were used to at all.
“Then the strength and conditioning, he brought Ollie Cummins down from Derry and he completely transformed lads. I remember going in there, I wouldn’t have even done one chin-up in my life.”
It’s that cerebral quality to Moran that keeps him young, insists Mayo’s Billy Joe Padden, who loved the season they had with him in 2006.
“The fact that he is still relevant as well doesn’t surprise me,” said Padden.
“Back then, he was constantly wanting to learn. He had John with him and the two of them were constantly bouncing ideas off each other in terms of what they were doing in training.
“Not only that, they would have been talking to you on the side of the pitch and asking what you thought on issues, constantly looking for more information.
“He would have looked at the Kilcoo lads and thought there was something for him to learn himself. Conor Laverty is heavily involved in coaching so he would have enjoyed going in there and working with him.”
Relationships are important to Moran. After bringing in Cummins for Leitrim in 2009, he then brought him along to Slaughtneil and now Kilcoo to take care of their conditioning.
To most people, he remains if not quite aloof, a somewhat remote figure. His coaches Conleith Gilligan and Richard Thornton do the media stuff before and after games. Both men jumped at the opportunity to work with Moran.
“He had very positive relationships with all of our lads,” said Padden.
“I am sure you could go round all the teams that he has coached and you will have a bunch of lads that will all say the same, that, ‘You know what, I really enjoyed working with him’.”
Slaughtneil were perennial challengers for the Derry title but apart from the 2004 triumph, everyone else stood back and knew that the self-implosion was never far away in the heat of battle.
They were addicted to self-destruction. Red cards were priced in but always catastrophic.
So, Moran took decisive action.
Francis McEldowney, a leader within that team, laughed: “We were there knocking on the door for a long time and maybe our discipline had been letting us down through the years. Myself, mostly!
“So he came in and made me captain. And he forced the responsibility onto me where I had to be setting an example. It kept me on the right side of it and it did work for him!”
In the four years that Moran was with Slaughtneil, they only had one more red card in Championship football. The great pity for them was it arrived just before half-time of the 2017 All-Ireland final against Dr Crokes and cost them dearly.
Here he stands, almost 70, chasing his second All-Ireland title to go with 1993 when he was the coach of the Derry team.
There is a sense that he is not as admired just as much in Derry as he is outside. Bad blood still remains around the fallout of that 1993 team.
That doesn’t diminish the man. It’s just a very common thing anyway in the GAA.
And yet, a positive outcome in Croke Park wouldn’t be enough to tear him away from the process of what he enjoys the most.
The art and science of coaching. The ability to work with young people. The opportunity to learn something.
Isn’t that some set of aspirations in life?