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'I can't thank Mickey enough, you don't realise how good that man is'

Mickey Moran was at the helm as the Down champions at last made their Ulster breakthrough.

Kilcoo players and fans celebrate yesterday's Ulster final victory.
Kilcoo players and fans celebrate yesterday's Ulster final victory.
Image: Evan Logan/INPHO

PERENNIAL CHALLENGERS AND cast into the unwanted role of nearly men in Ulster.

But finally at the eighth attempt, Kilcoo climbed to the provincial peak yesterday. They hung on in the face of a second-half onslaught from Naomh Conaill to grind out a two-point success.

The decade closes with an Ulster breakthrough for the Down champions and they became the first team from their county to lift this trophy in 31 years. Burren accumulated five Ulster crowns in the 80s but since their success in 1988, there had been seven final losses for Down clubs until yesterday’s triumph.

Kilcoo had witnessed their fair share of heartbreak. Their 2009 Down championship victory was the club’s first in 72 years. After that they dominated locally between 2012 and 2017 before an eighth county title this year.

They moved onto the Ulster stage where they were frustrated twice in the first round (’14 and ’17), in three semi-finals (’09, ’13 and ’15) and in two finals (’12 and ’16).

The last two decades in Ulster have seen a bunch of clubs fall short in more than one final. St Gall’s and Ballinderry had their luckless streaks ended by eventual successes but Enniskillen Gaels, Mayobridge, Scotstown and now Naomh Conaill have all lost two finals since 1999 with no victory to arrest that run of defeats.

So this feat was cherished with wing-back Darryl Branagan awarded man-of-the-match on a momentous day for his family as he lined out alongside his brothers Niall, captain Aidan and Aaron in defence while Eugene completed the quintet at wing-forward.

“It’s good old competition within the house,” he told TG4 after the game.

“You go to training, it’s who’s the fittest or who’s the fastest. It helps push everybody on. At training I would get more nervous if there was a fitness test knowing where you’re going to rank in the house as opposed to coming out to play in an Ulster final today but it’s healthy competition.”

At the tiller steering Kilcoo all the way was Mickey Moran. They saw up close his managerial powers when Slaughtneil bettered them by three points in that 2016 final.

Yesterday’s outcome embellishes Moran’s Ulster record with four final wins over the last six campaigns.

“You can see by everybody out there today, it’s unbelievable,” enthused Branagan.

“You don’t realise the work that’s went in, every night all year the training for this here. I can’t thank Mickey enough, you don’t realise how good that man is. Training every night, everyone’s going full tilt, flat out.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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