How Moran has carved out a legacy of respect
After Kilcoo beat Derrygonnelly Harps a fortnight ago to give themselves a third attempt to win an Ulster Club Championship against Naomh Conaill tomorrow, club captain Conor Laverty told Brian Carthy of RTÉ Radio of their manager, Mickey Moran: "He's an absolute gentleman and players love playing for him and we would die for him."
A quick anecdote. The evening that Kilcoo won the Down Championship on October 13, Laverty and joint-captain Aidan Branagan lifted the trophy with a stony demeanour.
By the time the team bus rolled into their grounds that evening in party mode, Laverty was already on their pitch putting out cones to conduct a training session with the club minors, whom he felt hadn't got the best of him in the week leading up to the senior final.
That kind of obsession is mirrored in Moran. At the last count, the 66-year-old has managed Derry, Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim and Donegal at county level and Omagh, Kilrea, Faughanvale, Urris, Creggan, Slaughtneil and now Kilcoo at club level. He had a brief spell with his home club Glen, in Maghera, and University of Ulster in Jordanstown.
There's another list twice as long of teams that he has guested with, helping out with sessions.
Through all that, the football is all that matters. When he became Donegal manager, he was given a tour of their training venue, a rough bit of land in Drumboe outside Stranorlor. He was firm in telling the county board there was no chance of him taking a session on such a surface, long before anyone on the island had even heard the word 'Saipan'.
His composure was what struck Donegal's key forward at the time, Brendan Devenney.
"The training was brilliant so when it came to match time, it wasn't the time to shout and roar. John Morrison would give the main team talk before games," he recalled.
"They worked very well together because they were both interesting characters. You often find in the GAA that one man has to be the man and has the big ego, they weren't like that at all.
"Mickey brought a bit of calmness, he never had to rattle people, that was never mentioned by anyone. It was all about us, playing football, using the ball. Never once did we hear of people being targeted in matches.
"Mickey Moran is one of the nicest men I have ever met and carried that into his sport. You see Slaughtneil talking about their extra father or grandfather that they had, Mickey had that father or grandfather type of thing."
Further evidence came from a chat with his coaching collaborator John Morrison a few months before he passed away last year.
"Mickey is very, very good at all times, but especially in the dressing room and especially before matches. Using affirmations to affirm players. He says, 'Today, goalkeeper, you will be stopping shots brilliantly. Your kickouts will be finding men'," explained Morrison.
What Moran had achieved in recent times with Slaughtneil, a club that had to share playing resources with the equally-successful hurling wing of the club, was staggering.
Before he arrived, they had one Championship in 2004 to brag about. That was achieved under another venerated figure, John Brennan, who had an absolute war approach to football.
For years after, Slaughtneil felt that was their template to win. The word around Derry was that you knew the Championship was approaching because Slaughtneil men would be sharpening their elbows off the gable walls of houses. Talented surely, but volatile and prone to lapses of discipline.
Moran changed that. He tamed the combative Francis McEldowney and made him captain. His relationship with the club deepened when Moran's son Anton, who helped out with coaching, went on to marry McEldowney's sister, Catriona.
Appointed on Christmas Eve 2013, he promised club chairman Sean McGuigan he could deliver a Derry Championship within three years.
In his four years, they won four Derry Championships and three Ulsters.
For some, the most impressive statistic was that in all their Championship games under Moran, they had just one red card, that coming with misfortune just prior to half-time of the 2017 All-Ireland Club final when Padraig Cassidy flung a half-hearted fist at Dr Croke's player Kieran O'Leary.
It was the sort of dominance that a player such as Chrissy McKaigue gave up a career in Australian Rules to aspire towards.
"Mickey has a very quiet way with him but for me it's his balance in how he conducts his coaching that sets him apart," said McKaigue now. "Slaughtneil got our fair share of strong words from Mickey over the years but it's his understanding of what the specific situation demands that sets him apart as a special man and coach.
"He's so detailed and professional in his preparation. That rubs off on the players. He respects everyone and takes nothing or no one for granted. That's why he's a winner."
Everyone is a paradox, however. When he was coach of Derry in 1993 and Eamonn Coleman was manager, his intervention at half-time of their All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, delivering a speech of the paint-stripping variety, is now central to Derry folklore of their All-Ireland triumph.
Kilcoo have won seven of the last eight Down titles. They ache around those parts to finally etch their name on the Seamus McFerran Cup. Their pragmatism brought Moran. His own pragmatism has him playing a defensive, counter-attacking style that nobody had seen before from a Moran team.
But his guiding principle does not change. The old maxim is that players do not care what you know, until they know that you care.