Scottish caravan plans put on hold for Eugene Branagan amid Kilcoo celebrations
INSTEAD of celebrating Kilcoo’s All-Ireland triumph on Saturday night, surrounded by family and friends, Eugene Branagan could have been sitting on his own in a caravan in Scotland.
The youngest of the five Branagan brothers who lined out against Kilmacud eventually walked off with the man-of-the-match award after his relentless running helped drag the Magpies back into a game that looked lost at times.
The party was still in full swing inside the Kilcoo changing room when Branagan made his way out, while carloads were already leaving the capital and charging up the road for the homecoming.
Those scenes after, staring up into the stands at Croke Park amid the frenzy that followed Jerome Johnston’s late winning goal, it was all a world away from what the 24-year-old sheep farmer is used to – and a world away from where he was due to be.
“I haven’t took a drink in three years,” he smiled.
“I’m maybe a bit of a recluse compared to other boys my age. Once we quit school, them boys were away to university where I was away farming. I was actually meant to go to Scotland tonight to lamb sheep… I just haven’t committed to it.
“I’ve been going away over there for seven years now, every February. It used to be on the Scottish borders but now it’s for a man in Perth - normally for a month at a time, do a bit of lambing over there, stay in a caravan in a shed. I love it, that’s the truth.
“When you’re away, it’s just yourself in the shed there, getting well paid… it’s sort of living the dream for a month. The family I go to really look after me, they’re like my second family now.
“I just might give it a miss this year, though.”
Football and farming – the undoubted loves of Eugene Branagan’s life, yet the crossover between the two can be complicated from time to time.
“The family I go to, it’s hard to explain to them about the football.
“Since I was going over there, you’re trying to tell them about it, what it means… they were sort of saying ‘is this like a Mickey Mouse thing?’ Now they get it, but at the start they didn’t really realise the significance of it all, and what it meant to us.
“I might get over in the summer but then, with the football, other players are nearly looking at you like ‘why’s this boy going all the time?’ I remember getting sent off in a championship final one year, but I got to go to a sale then.
“I missed the Scotstown game [in the 2016 Ulster Club] but as long as I got to the sale, I was delighted! They were starting to say I got sent off in badness…”
The celebrations reminded Branagan of 2009 when, as a starry-eyed 11-year-old, he watched Gerard McEvoy end the long wait for Kilcoo hands to lift the Frank O’Hare Cup. Even now, it still amazes him that four from his age group made the grade to follow in those footsteps.
“For the like of me, Ceilum [Doherty], Dylan Ward, Miceal Rooney, it was a long, long way for us.
“We weren’t like Shealan Johnston and them boys that were straight on – we were the last subs. Our age group growing up, it’s remarkable that there’s four have came through because we were C and B. We were the worst age group in the whole club, the other ones were winning Feiles and all the rest of it and we were dirt.
“In our last year at minor Jerome [Johnston sr] took us, he said we were going to play A championship, and I remember all the boys the next day at school saying ‘this is ridiculous here’.
“That year we got a real tough group, we beat Rostrevor, they’d won it the year before. He turned the likes of Dylan Ward inside out, made him the man he is today. We were all just a wee bit raw and hadn’t the finished product in us, and he made us into good footballers.
“For the like of myself, I was always fit enough - maybe the farming helps. But at senior training when I wasn’t getting on, you had to do something. If you weren’t going to be the best shooter… I have been very fit since Mickey and the boys came in. I feel I’m the fittest on the team.
“It helps you in these kind of games. Even there today, nothing can train you for that. We played well against Corofin here two years ago and got beat, we played terrible there today and won – that’s the way it goes. We’ll take it.”