Tears at last turn to cheers for incredible Conor Laverty and Kilcoo

Tears at last turn to cheers for incredible Conor Laverty and Kilcoo
Kilcoo’s joint captains Conor Laverty and Aidan Branagan with Caelan McEvoy after defeating Naomh Conaill (Donegal) in the Ulster SFC final at Healy Park, Omagh. Picture: Inpho/Evan Logan

Finally at last, with the Ulster Club Championship won and all that he had been striving for over the past decade secured, Conor Laverty could show the real ‘him.’

Not the player in between Championship rounds, giving reporters just about enough to not be accused of refusing interviews.

The mistake that is easily made in these circumstances is to take him for the persona he presented in such circumstances; taciturn, brusque, mono-syllabic.

“You know yourself, whenever you are talking before the matches it’s all about ‘getting the head down as best you can’, but there’s been a lot of sleepless night, lying in bed awake, waking up the next morning with tears, in bad form for weeks after those defeats,” he said of Kilcoo’s long quest to find provincial glory.

Nobody who is so adored by all the teams he coaches – he is a GAA Development Officer with Trinity University along with going in as coach with Monaghan in the new year – could really hide his personality for as long as he has, unless he buried his ego in pursuit of success.

So much so, that this weekend their minor side meet Tyrone champions Killyclogher in the Ulster minor club championship quarter-final at St Paul’s.

Laverty is the manager and immediately after the game, he was adamant that he would take minor training on Sunday night. “I am. Fact,” he said.

We have Ulster minor football championship in six days’ time. They will be on the field tonight.

“It’s just… Football is our life and that’s it. All the celebrating and all of that, that can be done afterwards but we have a game in six days’ time and we need to be prepared and ready for it.”

Eventually Laverty relented on that promise, perhaps getting caught up in their triumph.

Asked about his input into the club, assistant manager Conleith Gilligan explained, “He has a hand in everything. No matter what’s going on anywhere, he’s either in the middle of it or on the periphery of it.

“He is an incredible individual, someone I didn’t know anything about up until recently but when you do get to know him and you’re in with him, he will do anything for you.

“When you hear him talking about Mickey (Moran), the two of them are kindred spirits, they are just so close and I’m delighted for Conor and delighted for Mickey that they were able to do that together.

“For Conor and Aidan (Branagan), what they have given, they have more children around the field than you could count sometimes, but they just love it.”

The relationship with Moran is fascinating. On the steps for his victory speech, he proclaimed:

You are the nicest, best man we have ever met and to the day we die, all of us, we will never forget what you have done for us.

What he did, was bring an assurance to Kilcoo. Same as he had with Slaughtneil. He has now won four out of the last five provincial club titles, a record without comparison.

“See Mickey, I cannot put my finger on it what it is,” said the 34-year-old.

“And I have wracked my head trying to think what it is with Mickey Moran. It’s just something very special.

“It’s just a wee bit of magic dust that Mickey has. Listen, he is staying with us for the foreseeable future. There’s no fear of that!”

Gilligan made the surprising revelation afterwards that it was the quietest build-up of any game this year. The Kilcoo players all went to mass on Saturday evening in the local St Malachy’s Chapel and spent some time talking among their people in the graveyard afterwards. There was a contentment to their lead-in.

“It was a different feel to this week though. Something just different,” explains Laverty.

Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

“It was ‘light’. The mood was brilliant. It wasn’t spoken about too much. Mickey’s calmness, his coolness. It was a great build up.”

He continued, “The thing is, that this is a very driven bunch of players. It is within.

“For years, we just tried to win a Down league. And then it was trying to win a Down championship.

And then the expectations just grew and grew. We probably were getting so close so many times, that pressure built up a bit.

“But this year was just a wee bit different, a wee bit special and it just wasn’t for happening on the day. We weren’t for being beat. We weren’t going back to that well again.”

That confidence was there too when Naomh Conaill nibbled into their lead with two goals just prior to half-time, and then in the last quarter.

It was all-hands-on-pump time, with Laverty himself popping up deep in his own defence to knit counterattacks together.

“There was never a moment in that game when I thought we were going to be beaten,” he said.

“And there’s games this year where that has been the case. But today, no. As a group we have really developed our mental aspect and Mickey has brought such a belief to us, such a cool and calmness to it, it’s been super.”

Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

With Laverty and Niall McEvoy at 34, Aidan Branagan, Felim McGreevy at 33 and Niall Branagan 32, they did feel that time was against them to make the breakthrough.

Laverty stated, “That’s always the case. In the first Ulster match against Magherafelt we said in the changing rooms, ‘it is a long way back to here.’

It’s a hard grind from January to August, to get playing championship, to get into the championship and then to win your championship and get out of Down, it is a hard struggle and it was never mentioned.

We just felt as a group we needed to grasp this opportunity. There was a calmness about us, that we were getting the job done.

“But I think this should gain us a lot of respect.”

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