The man with the plan. Memories of Mickey Moran and his years with Slaughtneil
SLAUGHTNEIL was best known for teenage kicks at the Saturday night discos before Mickey Moran arrived and changed it all.
It was late in 2013 when he pulled into the car park to take his first training session and he pulled out for the final time as manager last week after winning a boot full of trophies over four glorious years with the county Derry outfit.
Despite having limited access to many dual players who were winning titles in hurling too, Moran took an unfashionable club and made it all the rage.
The Maghera native gave a group of young men dreams to chase and the skills to make them come true and if you judge his reign on the silverware he delivered then, by any standards, it was an outstanding success.
Before his time, Slaughtneil had captured a single Derry title and over the nine inconsistent years that followed that 2004 success they threatened only occasionally.
So there was nothing to suggest that a great leap forward was on the cards when Moran took over, but Slaughtneil have won the last four John McLaughlin Cups and the club’s success in Derry was only the start of it.
Moran and his assistant John Joe Kearney stepped down with three Ulster titles also in the clubhouse and, although the All-Ireland crown they deserved eluded them, Slaughtneil reached two finals after semi-final wins over Kerry’s Austin Stacks in 2015 and Dublin’s St Vincent’s last year that will live long in the memory.
But Moran’s time at Emmet Park was about much more than winning titles. For Chrissy McKaigue it was the bond their manager formed with him and his team-mates that was the key to his success.
“I would have spoken to him (before he came to the club) but I wouldn’t have had a strong relationship with him,” said McKaigue.
“That’s something I feel I have now. It’s very seldom in football, certainly in terms of a player-manager relationship, that you can say at the end of the journey: ‘There’s a man that I would trust with my life, there’s a man who is one of my best friends’.
“I think there’s many players in Slaughtneil who would feel that way towards Mickey and that’s why he so revered here.”
Moran (65) needed no introduction when he arrived at Emmet Park. After a successful playing career with Derry, his CV included spells as manager of the Oak Leaf county as well as Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim and he had also taken Mayo to the 2006 All-Ireland final. But those impressive credentials did not guarantee success at Slaughtneil.
“Around Slaughtneil there’s a certain kind of person that works and a certain kind of person that doesn’t work,” said McKaigue.
“The person that doesn’t work is somebody with their own agenda who is about boosting their own profile and who rules with the iron fist. Mickey Moran is not that person.
“We had to get to know him but after the first month or so you knew by the way he was talking to players and the way he was talking to the group that he is a man who is selfless. He wanted us to win and it wasn’t about him.
“When the players copped on to that they realized early on that Mickey is a very, very special man.
“He had accumulated a lot of experience before he came to us and the two curves just met – we were perfect for Mickey and he was perfect for us.
“We didn’t win an All-Ireland in the four years but every year we won significant silverware and for a club like Slaughtneil, that was on nobody’s map before Mickey came, he certainly put us on the map.”
Ballinderry were chasing a four in-a-row when Slaughtneil met them in the 2014 county final. With Patsy Bradley man of the match, the Emmet’s did what they had to do to win a nip-and-tuck decider by a single point.
“We were competitive in Derry for about 10 years before Mickey came but we couldn’t get over the line,” McKaigue recalls.
“There were a few decent years but they were followed up by a couple of poor years.
“We got to the county final in 2012, but in 2013 we were beat in the second round and he came into the job when not too many would have wanted us. But that’s the class of Mickey – he’s not going to go after so-called big names for handy success. That was never what he was about.
“The players were there to a certain extent but Mickey changed the team and brought players through which is a really good indication of how good a manager and coach he is. “He never stagnated, he never just picked the same players, he challenged new players and brought a wealth of youth through too.
“The sign of a brilliant coach is that he leaves you in a significantly better place than he found you. He was all about developing players, helping players and that’s where he got his kicks from.”
In football, as in life, there are always people who, as McKaigue puts it, “want to see you fail”. Call them doubters or call them haters, Moran and his men silenced them all.
“Irrespective of what you’ve achieved in sport, in teams and players and supporters there’s always going to be people with their own agendas so there’s always going to be doubts,” said McKaigue.
“He’s proved so many people wrong because nobody in their wildest dreams would have said that Mickey would have achieved what he did with us and I’m sure he would say his biggest aim was to win one Derry championship.
“He unlocked something in the players’ potential at Slaughtneil that no previous manager could do and that is a sign of his class.”
Year after year brought success but Moran was as interested in bringing through the young number 28 in his panel as he was in working with perceived certain starters like the McKaigues or the Bradleys.
“The biggest cliché in sport is about a manager coming in and that he cares for each player individually no matter who the name,” said McKaigue.
“In my experience that has seldom ever happened, but it actually did happen with Mickey Moran.
“He managed the reserve team with the same passion and professionalism that he managed the senior team. They won two championships in his time and he cared for every player.
“I think a lot of the players would have gone to him with their problems – he was like a father figure. He took a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and, irrespective of victory or defeat, the way he conducted himself was with the utmost class.”
The mental image many fans will have of Moran is his thoughtful, stoic presence on the sideline. He didn’t come across as a ranter and raver, but McKaigue says he was able to change it up when he had to.
“He was very calculated and very calm but he was passionate along the line when he had to be,” he said.
“He had that balance and you need that because it’s not about being the same way all the time.
“I never met a man who had been around football so long who was constantly thinking, constantly tweaking his own style and views on the game. He never had a set way of thinking, he was always learning and keeping up to date with the new ways but he always kept his core principles the same and nobody could fault the way Slaughtneil played.”
The end came a fortnight ago after defeat to Cork’s Nemo Rangers in a hard-fought All-Ireland semi-final at O’Moore Park. It was a game Slaughtneil could have won, but in extra-time the Munster champions ran away with it and McKaigue says he suspected that Moran would leave it at that. It turns out he was right.
“I’m very sad and disappointed that Mickey has gone for us but I’m relieved in many ways too because he leaves on his own terms,” he says and there are traces of emotion in his voice.
“He leaves with us as county and Ulster champions and if you had said four years ago that that would be the case, I’m not sure too many people would have believed you.”
Yes, Slaughtneil was best known for teenage kicks at the Saturday night discos before Mickey Moran arrived and changed it all.
Nowadays the club is a blueprint for the rest of the county, an example of how far commitment, fellowship and pride in the jersey can take you. Mickey Moran will be missed.
Memories of Moran
Mickey was undoubtedly a humble character, intelligent and warm hearted both on and off the pitch.
As a manager and a coach, he was a pleasure to train under. I don’t think I’ve ever went to his training and thought ‘I’m going to hate this’.
His ability to man-manage players to bring the best out of them is unique because he does it from 1-36.
What Mickey has done for our club is immeasurable. Not only did he coach our senior footballers, he coached all the coaches in our club without even knowing it. Everyone wanted to learn how Mickey did things. Many night’s people would stand and watch training, and you’d see underage teams the next week being coached the same principles. He has well and truely set the standard in our club.
I may have to wait some amount of years to find someone who’s a better manager, coach and a friend.
I honestly couldn't rate him highly enough as a manager.
His attention to detail to every aspect of the game, is the thing that sets him apart from everyone else.
I've played under a number of managers but none better than Mickey.
The thing that sets him apart from everyone else is the respect he shows you as a player and in turn the respect he has earned. We as team would do anything for Mickey for the fact of the respect he shows every one of their players.
There is no stone unturned in preparation and his man management skills are unbelievable. He gives you an appetite to go to training and better yourself.
His achievements speak for themselves and even without the championships, I am so grateful to have met and played under a man as nice as Mickey, one of the GAA greats. Couldn't thank him enough for what he has done for myself and the whole of Slaughtneil.