Kilcoo steeled for biggest ever challenge: Branagan
Daryl Branagan's inspirational display in Kilcoo's Ulster Club final win over Donegal kings Naomh Conaill proved central to the Down champions' arrival in their first All-Ireland Club semi-final, in which they will meet Dublin and Leinster title holders Ballyboden St Enda's on Saturday.
Branagan, one of five brothers in the side, now believes that Kilcoo can build on their first Ulster Club crown by reaching the All-Ireland final, in which they would meet Nemo Rangers (Cork) or Corofin (Galway), who clash in this weekend's other semi-final.
But it's Ballyboden St Enda's who are very much on Branagan's radar as he focuses on the biggest match in his club's history.
"You dream about playing in games such as this, and now that it's about to become reality, the enthusiasm and passion in the whole area is just unbelievable," revealed Branagan.
"Football is the only topic on the menu, and although Ballyboden St Enda's are viewed as the favourites, this does not worry us. We know that we have to produce a top-drawer performance if we are to come out on top and we aim to deliver that."
In contrast to their opponents, who will be vying for their first All-Ireland Club crown, Ballyboden collected the honour three years ago.
They are backboned by the much-decorated Michael Darragh Macauley in midfield and can look to the scoring talents of the Basquel brothers, Colm and Ryan, and the silken skills of Dublin panellist Robbie McDaid.
The Basquel brothers played big parts when Ballyboden emphatically beat Castlebar Mitchels in the 2016 final by 2-14 to 0-7.
Yet in the semi-final they were taken to extra-time by Munster representatives Clonmel Commercials before coming out on top by 0-15 to 0-10.
The fact that Macauley appears to have regained full fitness following a troublesome injury could impose additional pressure on the Kilcoo side, who are hoping to replicate the cohesion and fluidity they showed in winning the Ulster Club title.
Macauley could pose a big threat to the Ulster side should he be handed a midfield berth.
But dynamic wing-back Branagan pointed to Kilcoo's spread of scorers as one of the team's main strengths, while he also reiterated his admiration for manager Mickey Moran.
"I think the fact that we have shown over the course of the Down and Ulster Championships that we have players who can score from most positions and angles has helped us," stressed Branagan.
"Mickey Moran has been encouraging us to shoot and we try to make our chances count. I can't speak highly enough of Mickey because he has given us all fresh belief and has helped us to step up our work rate. We are now steeled for what will be the biggest test in our club's history."
Branagan's 1-2 in the Ulster Club decider proved crucial in his team's win over a Naomh Conaill side who staged a second-half recovery after having been 1-8 to 0-4 in arrears at one stage. But it was Branagan's well-taken goal early in the second half that put Kilcoo firmly on the path to victory and he is hoping that the team can reveal the same level of resolve and grit on Saturday.
"I think the spirit and commitment of the side proved crucial in the Ulster final, but we know it will take an even bigger effort this time round," insisted Branagan.
"The team ethic is everything as far as we are concerned, with every player dedicated to fulfilling his role.
"We have become used to grinding out results and we will certainly need this kind of staying power against Ballyboden St Enda's, because they know what it is like to take delivery of an All-Ireland title."