GAA Football

Kilcoo coach Gilligan says he has a "soft spot" for Ulster final opponents Naomh Conaill

Conleith Gilligan and Mickey Moran. Picture by Seamus Loughran

KILCOO coach Conleith Gilligan says he still has “a very soft spot” for their Ulster final opponents Naomh Conaill after he helped them to a county title nine years ago.

Gilligan dipped his toes into coaching that year, travelling up to the Glenties to take a series of sessions under then-manager Cathal Corey.

He was still playing for both Derry and Ballinderry at the time, and indeed ended up playing in a county final himself the same day that Naomh Conaill won theirs against Killybegs.

While in most cases a gap of nine years would remove the past from relevance, the fact that the Glenties’ team still retains a core of almost half the 2010 side brings it into significance.

Among their playing ranks at the time was current manager Martin Regan, and they will now pit their wits against each other in two weeks’ time as the clubs vie for an Ulster Club title that’s eluded them both this decade.

Asked if he was still on the Glenties’ WhatsApp group, he laughed: “No but again, I’d have a very soft spot for Naomh Conaill, for Leo and those boys.

“They are a fantastic club, fantastic people. Whenever they were playing anywhere else I’d always have been watching out for them and always had a soft spot.

“They were very impressive [against Clontibret]. They have pace, they have power, they have strength, great composure.

“Martin Regan came straight out of playing and has been there five years, and he deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done with Naomh Conaill.”

An All-Ireland and two-time Ulster Club winner as a player, Gilligan only retired from duty with Ballinderry after their championship exit last year.

He agreed to join forces with Mickey Moran and Paul Devlin in the Mournes and they’ve helped Kilcoo to within 60 minutes of the provincial title they’ve craved.

Both Moran and Gilligan have played key hands in their near misses. Moran led Slaughtneil to victory over the Magpies in the 2016 final and then the following year’s preliminary round, while Ballinderry overcame two early red cards to edge them in an epic semi-final in 2013 after Kilcoo had knocked out Crossmaglen.

“It’s very different,” said Gilligan of being on the line trying to aid them now.

“A lot more stressful actually, but it’s great. Playing is everything obviously, and it’s all about the players in these next two weeks.

“All we do is stress and worry about everything else to try and take the burden off the players, because you want them to be nice and relaxed going into it so they can enjoy it as best they can.

“When they’re enjoying it, there’s a better chance of them performing.”

The view on who the favourites will be for the final – which looks likely to be held in Clones despite being listed, in an obvious error, for the Davy Brennan Memorial Park, Naomh Conaill's home ground, on the Ulster Council website earlier this week - is likely to be split.

Also, originally set for a Sunday December 1 slot, the date for the final on the Ulster Council website yesterday read 'To Be Confirmed' with speculation that a move to Saturday November 30, may be being considered to allow for the game to be televised. 

The Naomh Conaill have been the more impressive side, but Kilcoo have been hammering on the door since 2012 and are masters themselves of tight games.

“We’ve taken it a game at a time, that’s all we’ve done. It was getting the Down championship back for them and then taking Magherafelt, then Derrygonnelly. It will be no different the next day and if that’s good enough, great.

“That performance today would be absolutely nowhere near good enough, we know that,” said Gilligan.

“But all these games, it’s just being the best team on the day. It doesn’t matter how you play as long as you get there. Today we just needed to be better and we were, and we’re very thankful for that.”

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