Kilcoo joint-skipper Aidan Branagan: 'I had retired until Mickey Moran was appointed manager'
AIDAN Branagan made his decision at the end of last season. It was official: He had hung up his boots.
With a rapidly-expanding young family, a farm to help run and a job to go to, it seemed certain that the veteran defender, now 36, had reached the end of the road.
But on Sunday he leads Down and Ulster champions Kilcoo out for the All-Ireland final against Corofin at Croke Park.
What changed his mind? The arrival of Mickey Moran of course.
‘Choc’ was part of the delegation sent from Kilcoo to entice the Derry guru back into football after he’d stepped down from guiding Slaughtneil to three Ulster titles in four years.
Branagan explains: “Last year I said I wasn’t coming back.
“We had four children all under five at that stage and the farm… I was very busy and I’m a carpenter as well so I thought it was time to call ‘time’ on it.
“I declared myself out and then we were looking for a new manager and I was brought in to be one of the boys to talk to the managers. We were talking to Mickey but he was a bit of a myth and we never thought we would get him because we thought he had retired, we thought he was quit.
“Then when we went to talk to him and he was interested. We couldn’t believe it and everybody was just buzzing. It changed everything.
“Whenever we asked him to come, me and Conor (Laverty) told him about how close we were (to winning an Ulster title) and how dying we were to get over the line.
“We were really putting ourselves out there and we were telling the truth, we were putting our hearts on our sleeves. He said: ‘I think yous are good enough to do it’ and the minute he said that, him thinking that, was a massive booster. That was a big deal.”
Moran took Conleith Gilligan and Paul Devlin along with him and the Derry-born trio have all played their roles in a management team that covers all the bases.
“Conleith is the most upbeat person you would ever meet in your life,” said Branagan.
“Every night at training he is just buzzing and then Paul is taking everything in and no man is ever missed out.
“If some man is a wee bit off form – maybe there’s something wrong at home or he’s not well - you’ll see Paul taking him to the side. There’s nothing missed, they are a brilliant team.”
Moran’s predecessors Jim McCorry and Paul Devlin both took the Magpies to Ulster finals but neither could get the side over the line. Moran, in his first season, has managed what no-one else could.
“He just gets more out of the players,” said Branagan.
“He weighs everyone up, gives everyone a few weeks and then hones in on how he needs to deal with them, how he needs to talk to them to get them to where they need to be.
“I’ve seen boys this year playing better than they’ve ever played and they’re playing 20 years at senior level. It’s how nice he is, the respect he has for people – it’s really all about respect, everything comes back to that one word.
“He’s very good at getting the best out of people and it’s just because he’s so nice to them. He’s hands on, everything we do on the field him Conleith and Paul are involved.”