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It's been a magical year for all at Kilcoo: Laverty

 

Winning combination: Kilcoo’s Conor Laverty celebrates with son Setanta
Winning combination: Kilcoo’s Conor Laverty celebrates with son Setanta
Conor Laverty lifting the club’s first ever Ulster crown with Aidan Branagan
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Meet Conor Laverty, the Kilcoo captain unburdened by the need to say 'the right thing' in interviews, now that his lifelong dream of winning an Ulster Club Championship came true in Omagh on Sunday after they edged out Naomh Conaill 2-11 to 2-9.

He cut a far more relaxed figure than the often tense individual that would take care of media duties between rounds, staying so on-message it might have made Jim Gavin blush.

Through it all, the only thing for Laverty has been the progress of the Kilcoo club - so much so that he originally remained committed to taking training that night for the minor side he manages and who face Tyrone champions Killyclogher in the Ulster Minor Club Championship quarter-final at St Paul's this weekend.

"I am. Fact," he said. "We have the Ulster Minor Football Championship coming up. They will be on the field tonight.

"Football is our life and that's it. All the celebrating and all of that can be done afterwards, but we have a game at the weekend."

Laverty eventually relented on that promise, perhaps getting caught up in their first ever Ulster title.

Asked about Laverty's input into the club, Kilcoo assistant manager Conleith Gilligan explained: "He has a hand in everything. No matter what's going on anywhere, he's either in the middle of it or on the periphery of it.

"He is an incredible individual, someone I didn't know anything about up until recently. But when you do get to know him and you're in with him, he will do anything for you.

"When you hear him talking about Mickey (Moran), the two of them are kindred spirits, they are just so close and I'm delighted for Conor and delighted for Mickey that they were able to do that together.

"For Conor and Aidan (Branagan), what they have given, they have more children around the field than you could count sometimes, but they just love it."

Laverty's relationship with Moran is a fascinating one. On the steps during his victory speech, he proclaimed: "You are the nicest, best man we have ever met, and to the day we die, all of us, we will never forget what you have done for us."

What Moran did was bring an assurance to Kilcoo, the same as he had done with Slaughtneil. He has now won four out of the last five provincial club titles, a record without comparison.

"See Mickey, I cannot put my finger on what it is," said the 34-year-old Laverty.

"And I have wrecked my head trying to think what it is with Mickey Moran. It's just something very special.

"It's just a wee bit of magic dust that Mickey has. He is staying with us for the foreseeable future!"

Gilligan made the surprising revelation afterwards that it was the quietest build-up of any game this year. The Kilcoo players all went to mass on Saturday evening in the local St Malachy's Chapel and spent some time talking among their people in the graveyard afterwards. There was a contentment to their lead-in.

Laverty explained: "It was a different feel to this week. Something just different.

"It was light. The mood was brilliant. It wasn't spoken about too much.

"Mickey's calmness, his coolness, it was a great build-up.

"The thing is, this is a very driven bunch of players. It is within. For years, we just tried to win a Down league. And then it was trying to win a Down Championship. And then the expectations just grew and grew. We probably were getting so close so many times, that pressure built up a bit.

"But this year was just a wee bit different, a wee bit special, and it just wasn't for happening on the day. We weren't for being beaten."

That confidence was there too when Naomh Conaill nibbled into their lead with two goals just prior to half-time, and then in the last quarter of the game.

It was all hands to the pump time, with Laverty himself popping up deep in his own defence to knit impressive flowing counter-attacks together.

"There was never a moment in that game when I thought we were going to be beaten," he said.

"And there have been games this year where that has been the case. But here, no. As a group we have really developed our mental aspect and Mickey has brought such a belief to us, such a cool and calmness to it. It's been super."

With Laverty and Niall McEvoy 34-years-old, Branagan and Felim McGreevy 33 and Niall Branagan 32, they did feel that time was against them to make the breakthrough.

"We just felt as a group that we needed to grasp this opportunity. There was a calmness about us, that we were getting the job done," added Laverty.

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