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Sunday 26 January 2020

Kilcoo not content to settle for bringing end to provincial famine

Aidan Branagan considered packing in last year
Aidan Branagan considered packing in last year

A week after the liberation of their Ulster final victory over Naomh Chonaill, Mickey Moran blew one last sharp whistle to end a Kilcoo training session and brought the players into a huddle.

"He said: 'stop lads and think about this for a second'," recalls Aidan Branagan.

"'There's only four sets of (flood)lights on in Ireland tonight. And we're one of them.'

"So yeah, it is a big deal."

Of the four remaining teams in this year's All-Ireland club championship, Kilcoo are the one that could be most easily forgiven for treating their provincial win as an end in itself.

Motto

Branagan - one of five brothers on the Kilcoo team - is now 36 and at the end of last year, when the club lost to Burren by three points in the Down county final, he and several of his more mature vintage considered jacking it all in.

He has four children and a farm and after a couple of Ulster final defeats in 2012 and '16, he felt further away from making that breakthrough than at any stage since they ended a 72-year wait for a county title in 2009.

"But there's a motto in the club about leaving the jersey in a better place," Branagan explains.

"And the five or six of us talking about leaving, we all have children, and if we had left … it's hectic enough at home.

"Because there's a new crop of minors coming through, we said it would be bad if we left. After all this work, to walk away and leave it. We said we'd give it one more year.

"Try and win Down, leave it in a better place and see where we're at."

You could reasonably argue that winning nine county titles in the 11 years after the famine ended represented a good innings for Branagan.

But when they were habitual challengers in Ulster without actually winning it, provincial success became their obsession.

Which is why they went to Moran in search of a coach who could bring something different, a fresh approach, to their quest.

"You can dress it up whatever way you want. But when you don't win, you're not good enough. And that was it," Branagan insists.

"It was a different feeling this time compared with any other final. We went to mass the night before and most of us were standing at whoever's graves we go to.

"We just … you couldn't say for definite because we hadn't won … but we were all saying it felt different.

"It was a just a different buzz. That's what Mickey brought."

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