Aidan Branagan is happy to do his talking on the pitch for Kilcoo
KILCOO'S joint-captain Aidan Branagan is a man of few words. And it is not because he has nothing to say, but like so many of his team-mates, he prefers to do his talking on the pitch.
Sunday’s Ulster Club SFC final clash against Slaughtneil will be Kilcoo’s biggest game since the ill-fated final defeat to Crossmaglen Rangers in 2013 and victory means everything to the teak-tough defender.
“It is the same as every team, it would mean everything to us, we have spent five years trying to win Ulster, and so it would mean the world to us,” said Branagan.
Under manager Paul McIver, this Kilcoo team found a strong resolve as they started the season without key personnel, such as the injured Johnston brothers, Jerome and Ryan, midfielder Paul Greenan, Aidan Fulcher and the retired Anthony Devlin.
Lesser teams wouldn’t have been able to cope with such a loss, but McIver introduced a number of young players, such as Ceilum Doherty, Martin Devlin and Killian Laverty, and they have flourished this season.
“If someone had said to us after the Down final last year that we could have won Down again with five our six of our top players missing, I wouldn’t have believed them,” said Branagan.]
"But they have really gelled together well and it has been a really good year for us. That is one thing about Paul [McIver] is that if he feels they are good enough then they will get their chance. So anyone that has been doing well in training has been doing well on the field and that is all you can ask from them.
“The systems are in place and the players are coming through every year. The club is getting stronger and stronger and it is just good to see everyone’s hard work and hunger being rewarded in some way.”
Despite losing so many players, competition for places has remained fierce, with even Branagan being forced to spend time on the bench, but all season Kilcoo have been able to introduce quality during games and he insists that this is side’s greatest quality.
“Our reinforcements have been brilliant this year and any man that has come on from the bench has been equally as strong as what is on the field,” he said.
“That is our number one strength.”
Darren O’Hanlon has played at half-forward, corner-back, half-back and full-back this season, while Eugene Branagan has played up front, in the middle and in defence too.
Brothers Stephen and Niall Kane have also battled it out for the goalkeeping position, with Niall unseating the former Down keeper for the number one spot in recent games.
And Branagan believes that versatility is important for player development, which can only be positive for his club: “Most Gaelic players now can play in different positions and that is the way we have been working with the youth teams coming through - we insist that they play in all positions so I suppose that is a good thing,” he said.
Branagan and Slaughtneil’s Brendan Rogers battled the winter cold as they stood on the frozen pitch for a press launch at Armagh’s Athletic Grounds on Wednesday night.
There is little doubt things will be more heated when the players next see each other on Sunday, although the Kilcoo man kept any thoughts he had on Slaughtneil close to his chest.
“We haven’t got to look at them yet but I am sure we will before the weekend,” he said.
“I don’t follow football, I don’t know anything about it.”
Branagan will do his talking on the pitch come Sunday.