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Kilcoo reap benefit of Mickey Moran's leadership, says Conor Laverty

 

Caught up: Aidan Branagan and Conor Laverty of Kilcoo get to grips with Derrygonnelly’s Ronan McHugh
Caught up: Aidan Branagan and Conor Laverty of Kilcoo get to grips with Derrygonnelly’s Ronan McHugh
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Ask someone to explain an instinctive piece of play and quite often you are unlikely to receive a detailed response.

For the players in the heat of battle, opportunism becomes natural, an ability to spot what seems blatantly obvious to them at the time.

So it is with Conor Laverty, the Kilcoo captain. They found themselves struggling against Derrygonnelly in the Ulster Club semi-final at the weekend.

The Fermanagh champions had put their rival's kickout under pressure and, with their superior strength around the middle, reeled off three consecutive points to level the game at 0-5 each by the 37th minute.

Two minutes later, Derrygonnelly's Tiernan Daly fouled Ryan Johnston about 30m from goal. The free was then moved in for dissent. Most players would settle for tapping the free over the bar and keeping the scoreboard ticking over, but instead Laverty grabbed the ball and played a quick free to Anthony Morgan with the Derrygonnelly defence distracted.

He carried the ball and presented Aaron Branagan with a simple finish from close in to the net. The goal was to be a crucial cushion as they held on for a two-point win.

"I thought it was obvious enough," said Laverty. "I could just see (Morgan) out of the corner of my eye and he was in. Lucky enough, it came off and we were in the right position."

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Kilcoo have been on the hunt for this competition for a decade now. They won the Down Championship in 2009, bridging a gap back to 1937. They have won their domestic trophy eight times over the last 11 seasons, Burren grabbing the other three.

During that period, they have twice made it to the Ulster final. In 2012, they were defeated by Crossmaglen and in 2016 it was Slaughtneil's turn to dash their dreams.

Throughout that time, Kilcoo's revolution was spearheaded by the current Armagh senior coach and selector Jim McCorry, who left them to take on the Down county manager job.

After McCorry, Paul McIver was brought in but still the ultimate silverware in Ulster eluded them.

It came as something of a surprise that when they went looking for a replacement for McIver, Mickey Moran - in charge of Slaughtneil when they beat Kilcoo in the 2016 Ulster final - decided to make the long trek to the Mournes. He brought Conleith Gilligan with him.

One of the first duties Moran took care of was to appoint Laverty as club captain and it appears that the two men recognise plenty in each other, Laverty having been brought in as coach with the Derry senior team last year, as well as coaching the St Michael's College Enniskillen team to MacRory and Hogan Cup success.

"Mickey has just brought a coolness and a calmness. His mannerism, he is an extremely nice man and it is a pleasure to play for him," said Laverty, a GAA coaching officer in Trinity College, as well as one of the newly-appointed coaches who will be in Seamus McEnaney's Monaghan backroom team in 2020.

"He's an absolute gentleman and players love playing for him and we would die for him," he added.

The final will be a re-acquaintance of sorts.

Gilligan spent a brief time helping out Kilcoo's final opponents in 2010, when he was coach for Naomh Conaill under Cathal Corey's time in charge.

"I'd have a very soft spot for Naomh Conaill, for Leo and those boys," said Gilligan.

"They are a fantastic club, fantastic people. Whenever they were playing anywhere else, I'd always have been watching out for them and always had a soft spot."

This is a competition that Gilligan won himself as a player for Ballinderry, but he believes being in management is a much more demanding pursuit.

"It's very different. A lot more stressful actually, but it's great. Playing is everything, obviously, and it's all about the players in these next two weeks.

"All we do is stress and worry about everything else to try and take the burden off the players, because you want them to be nice and relaxed going into it so they can enjoy it. When they're enjoying it, there's a better chance of them performing."

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