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Kilcoo and Slaughtneil both fired by complete belief and dedication

 

Guiding light: Mickey Moran has proved inspirational
Guiding light: Mickey Moran has proved inspirational
On the up: Aidan Branagan is sure Kilcoo can improve
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

After they finally achieved what they had been striving for for over a decade, the Kilcoo sights were reset.

Training had concluded for the evening and smoke was drifting from the chimneys in the parish. Manager Mickey Moran drew them all into the customary circle at the end and left them with an image for their minds.

"He said 'stop lads and take a small think about it'," recalls joint-captain Aidan Branagan.

"There's only four sets of floodlights on in Ireland tonight. And we're one of them. So it is a big deal."

Kilcoo and Moran have exploded this season like a Hollywood romance. All the players gush over him and as they get ready for the next step - an All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin and Leinster champions Ballyboden St Enda's - they find themselves in an entirely new frame of mind.

On the bus home from Omagh after beating Naomh Conaill in the Ulster final, the overwhelming feeling was of relief. Around nine or 10 players even went home early rather than stay out.

At around 2am, a text message came from Branagan's fellow skipper Conor Laverty saying, 'Good to get over the line, wasn't it?'

Unlike scenes that have become familiar now with champions, there was no partying for Branagan on the Monday. With four children at home, his work as a joiner and some sheep farming, he doesn't have time for that. Kilcoo is a rarity in that their senior team have more tradesmen than most.

"Our team has a lot of them. The likes of my brother Aaron, he's a gym instructor. He's living the dream. He's coming to training every night with his hair done!" laughs Branagan.

"Whereas everyone else is wrecked. But I do think the trade sticks to them in other ways."

Laverty himself is a busy man. He is now coaching Monaghan, is a GAA Development Officer at Trinity College and farms also.

"He hasn't a minute. He's a header," jokes Branagan again.

"But I suppose his job maybe frees him up a wee bit more compared to boys with a trade who have eight to five every day.

"I know some of the boys are working in Dublin on roofs all day, so it's tough on them. I was in Dublin until three or four months ago but I had to quit it because it got too much.

"I had an injury and I couldn't get over it.

"I just couldn't get over it, with all the travelling. It was just too tough."

For years outside Down, Kilcoo were something of an unknown quantity.

The access BBC NI gained for their documentary the week after the Ulster final gave a special insight into a club driven by their community.

Slaughtneil is the other team out this weekend in senior action. Given their exploits in football and camogie as well as this weekend's focus on hurling, there is little to reveal about them.

On paper, their clash with Ballyhale Shamrocks seems a gargantuan challenge.

The Kilkenny champions are spearheaded by illustrious names such as TJ Reid, Adrian Mullen and Colin Fennelly. They are available at odds of 1/33.

But certain things could help Slaughtneil.

The game is in Newry, a venue in which they covered themselves in glory at the Ulster final, defeating Dunloy a few short weeks ago.

In 2016 when they won their first Ulster title with victory over Loughgiel in the final, they had to wait an incredible 18 weeks to play their All-Ireland semi-final against Cuala.

The following year, it was 16 weeks. This time, it is a mere eight.

And, for the first time in many of their adult lives, they have been able to focus exclusively on hurling.

Those other runs were made while juggling footballing commitments. Slaughtneil's physical work has all been geared towards hurling now

You just never know.

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