ON SATURDAY, MICKEY Moran attempts to win a senior All-Ireland final as manager on the fifth time of asking.
The 2020 club final defeat with Kilcoo to Corofin, arrived after Slaughtneil fell at the final hurdle to the Galway side in 2015 and Dr Crokes in 2017.
In 2006, his Mayo team were taken apart in the All-Ireland SFC decider by a ruthless Kerry outfit.
There were plenty of successes too. He experienced an All-Ireland win as part of the Derry backroom team 29 years ago, while he led UUJ to Sigerson Cup success in 2008.
He brought Sligo to the 1999 Connacht final, Derry to the last four of the All-Ireland series in 2004 and led Omagh to the Tyrone SFC crown in 1988.
It was Moran’s tenure with Slaughtneil, who had beaten Kilcoo in a provincial final, that encouraged a group of senior players from the Down club to headhunt him in the winter of 2018.
“A few players did approach him, but what he had done with Slaughtneil, he was so successful with them, and they beat us in an Ulster final in 2016, so we thought, why not?” says forward Paul Devlin.
“In 2016 there was only a kick of a ball between us and Slaughtneil so when our manager stepped down, we kind of went for it, and he’s provided us with so many good days now.
“He brought us an Ulster title, and now he’s brought us to two, and we can only be thankful for him, and hopefully on Saturday we can put in a performance that he can be proud of us with.”
Moran took charge of a group of players willing to do whatever it took to get over the line. That’s what makes them a perfect fit.
Kilcoo play a defensive, counter-attacking style under Moran but are also happy to play a patient possession game and hold onto the ball for long spells. One thing they strive to do is reduce unforced errors.
“The team that makes the least mistakes in games, is the team that’s probably going to win the game,” explains Devlin.
“Something that Mickey definitely kneels down on is to keep the ball as long as possible and be efficient when you get into the scoring areas.
“Football seems to be going that way, you do see a lot more possession based teams, working back, and working it through the lines as such. Every team is different, some teams might let you kick the ball longer, so it comes part and parcel of Gaelic football.”
The Magpies have looked like a team on a mission throughout their Ulster campaign and All-Ireland semi-final. Their muted celebrations after the provincial final win against Derrygonnelly Harps said a lot about their ambitions.
They required extra-time to overcome St Finbarr’s in the All-Ireland semi-final, but the way they controlled both periods said a lot about how they were prepared by Moran.
“He’s just very calm, and he installs the belief in players, makes you believe that you have the capabilities of being where you want to be,” Devlin continues.
“It doesn’t come easy though, you have to work hard, there’s no point in saying anything different, you do have to work hard to be at the level of where we are now.
“There’s no easy sessions, it’s tough going and there wasn’t anybody that complained about anything, everyone just got their head down, and worked hard.”
Paul Devlin of Kilcoo ahead of the #TheToughest AIB All-Ireland club football final.
Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
Moran chose not to speak to his players about his previous trips to the final with Slaughtneil. When the group discussed Kilcoo’s heartbreaking extra-time loss two years ago, he put a positive spin on things.
The habit of learning from their last game and moving on has served Kilcoo well so far.
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“He identifies some areas we would want to improve on, and we have capitalised on certain areas, like we learned a lot from Corofin.
“So he has installed that wee bit of belief in ourselves, and that we can believe in ourselves as a team to put in a performance, and compete with anybody.
“One of the big things we learned, and it showed in our previous game against St Finbarr’s, and against Glen which went to extra time, was how to deal with extra time.
“Against Corofin I don’t think we even scored in extra time, So it just shows that it has been a long process, and in the last game against St Finbarr’s I thought our best period of football was in extra time.”
It helped too that Moran has by his side coaches of the quality of Tyrone’s Richard Thornton, formerly a coach in Donegal under Rory Gallagher, and his number two Conleth Gilligan, who lifted the Andy Merrigan Cup as a star forward on the Ballinderry team.
“He’s very bubbly around the group,” Devlin says of Gilligan. “He keeps you on edge. You’ll do something well, and he’ll look at what you did wrong. He makes sure that your feet are firmly on the ground.
“He always looking at what way the forwards can improve in terms of movement, and trying to find space, and where the areas are that we can score from that would be more efficient with shot selection. He has brought a lot in terms of forward play.”
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