Magpies' time to take flight

Steve Malone

Reporter:

Steve Malone

Email:

steve.malone@newrydemocrat.com

IT is the game this Kilcoo team has preparing for since the final whistle in Croke Park in 2019.

The Magpies management didn't make a song and dance about there being no All-Ireland Club Championship last year as a result of the Covid pandemic.

That made the focus on this campaign that bit more steely and so far no-one has got in their way.

The overturning of Aidan Branagan's red card is already a victory. A leader on and off the pitch, his influence is vital for the Magpies.

You can talk about playing the game and not the occasion until the cows come home. The reason this game means so much is about the occasion.

Less than 20 years ago Kilcoo were playing in Division Three in Down. Ten years later they started ruling the roost and have stayed at the top, albeit the wobble against Burren in 2018. But they have built on their success with the impressive new clubhouse, magnificent pitch and they are the backbone of their community. Everything has been done to help prepare this talented bunch of players to win the ultimate in club football. And if Kilcoo do get over the line, it will not only be the players dreams that come true. But the Magpies have to perform. And Mickey Moran and his assistant Conleith Gilligan have their homework done.

“It is a massive occasion, and I suppose we have been there and we have seen the other side of an All-Ireland Final and the downside of it,” Gilligan said.

“But you can't lose sight of the fact that you have to play well. It don't matter what the game is or where it is at. At this point you don't win any games by underperforming and that is what we are trying to avoid. If you get to Croke Park and you get to a final you have to play well if you want to win the game and this one will be very much like that, especially when you have two teams that are probably 50/50.”

The All-Ireland Final is set up to be a classic. Kilmacud Crokes' style of play isn't so far removed from that of Kilcoo. They may not be just as disciplined in the patient build-up play and this is where Kilcoo can turnover, counter attack and strike. Crokes will feel likewise.

“I suppose they would be very similar to us, they would be athletic and they have got a lot of pace in their team,” said Gilligan.

“They would be similar as to where we have pace they will have pace, it is just a matter of performing then. We are not going to out-run them, you are not going to outmuscle them, based on the condition they are in, so it is just about performing and playing well.

“Match-ups will always be important and you'll always try to match up that where you are strong they are strong, but sometimes teams change and opposition lay players in different positions and makes it virtually impossible.

So while you may have the best laid plans for the opposition and sometimes you can do stuff and throw that up the left. Ultimately, in these games sometimes you have to play what you see, when teams bringing on subs it throws the match-ups out and you just have to play what you see.”

Gilligan expects another tough battle, having won three games after extra-time en route to the final, the Magpies have come through the wars as well as blowing the odd team away.

“In a lot of our games even through Down they were difficult and some games we were well up and we allowed teams back at us and it went to extra-time against Carryduff and similar in Ulster,”said Gilligan.

“There is very little that is going to come at us that we haven't seen before in terms of in-game activity. But every game is different and there'll be no script or no set-play, every game throws up it's own challenges and they are normally challenges that you genuinely have never even thought about.”

When Kilcoo brought in Mickey Moran and Conleith Gilligan it came with the belief he was the man to get them over the line and Moran wouldn't have taken the role if he did not think the players had what it took.

As manager Moran has taken Mayo, Slaughtneil and Kilcoo to All-Ireland finals but has yet to get over the line, this group of players will want be the men that let him drink from the winners enclosure in Croke Park. But Gilligan says the players owe it to themselves not the management team but pays tribute to Kilcoo native Richie McEvoy.

“It's for the boys who have toiled for ten or 12 years and then there's Mickey and myself and Richie who came in this year and the difference that Richie has made,” Gilligan said.

“A new voice and the players have reacted well to him and we are in the final and it is no small part to what Richie has done.

“For the boys that have been there for so long it would be the ultimate reward and it would be amazing if it actually happened.

“Sport is cruel and you don't always get what you deserve, you have to get what you work for and we will be working as hard as we can to try and get the right outcome, but sometimes things are out of your hands and you have to leave it up to the gods.”

In Kilcoo, they won't take such chances. Players such as Conor Laverty, Jerome Johnston and Ryan McEvoy deliver blockbuster performances game after game.

Eugene Branagan, Ceilum Doherty, Niall Kane and Miceal Rooney have been the most consistently impressive players all season, while we has seen Ryan Johnston, Paul Devlin, Aaron and Daryl Branagan produce moments of magic. Aaron Morgan, Niall Branagan and Aaron Branagan are tasty footballers but for this team they put in much of the hard graft, while Shealan Johnston, Dylan Ward and Anthony Morgan have added touches of class. Every player puts in the work-rate and they have a system and a bond that is hard to break.

They attack with support and tackle with support and they have won a lot of admirers over the years. The Magpies will be in full voice for UTM but again they'll be expected to be outnumbered by the Dublin support.

Kilcoo supporters travel in great numbers and while the Kilcoo supporters will make a massive noise, the number of club members in the parish compared to St Finbarr's or Kilcmacud Crokes will just be dwarfed,” Gilligan said.

“But while we will be dwarfed by number we won't be beaten on enthusiasm and drive for their team. They are a very special part of the team and what the boys look forward to on game days.”

It is hard to know if we have seen the best of Kilcoo yet. If they play to their potential then Laverty and Aidan Branagan have a great chance of lifting the Andy Merrigan Cup.

“You would love it that every team saved their best for their last game, but you just don't know.,” Gilligan said.

“You prepare and you try and do everything as meticulously as you can. But that is what makes sport brilliant because on any given day, you never know what is going to happen and this game will be no different.”

Saturday (February 8) at 5pm

AIB GAA FOOTBALL ALL-IRELAND SENIOR CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL

At Croke Park: Kilcoo v Kilmacud Crokes.

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