All-Ireland Club Football Championship Final
Kilcoo (Down) v Corofin (Galway)
Sunday, Croke Park, 4pm
FORTY-five players, three members of the management team and a backroom staff of six. If Kilcoo defeat Corofin in Sunday’s All-Ireland final, 54 medals will be dished out. Maybe they might round it up to 55 to recognise the contribution of Fr Gary Toman.
Sports stars are notoriously superstitious folk. Former NFL star Brian Urlacher had to eat two chocolate chip cookies before every game, basketball player Mike Bibby had to clip his nails during time-outs while Paul Ince wouldn’t put his shirt on until he was coming out of the tunnel
As Kilcoo joint-captain Aidan Branagan explains, the team have their own superstition and they’re hoping it will provide some divine intervention this weekend.
“We went to mass the night before the Ballyboden game and we were in the graveyard after it and the graveyard was just buzzing, everyone was football mad.
“There’s a special priest comes for us now. By coincidence he was there the night before the Ulster final.
“He’s from Loughinisland but he did the Ulster night because he was into football and he was great craic about it.
“The chapel was packed because when the team said they’d go then the parish said they’d go too.
“The last night before the Ballyboden match he contacted the club and asked could he come down and say another mass.”
No guesses for who will be saying mass this Saturday.
Branagan holding court amongst a gaggle of journalists is just one of the small changes in Kilcoo this season.
In previous years, even as a joint-captain, it would have been a commitment that he would have ran a mile from, but on a few occasions this season he has been happy to tick that particular box.
The versatile defender, who has played further out the field as the campaign has progressed, is good value. From speaking about almost quitting after the 2018 county final loss to Burren, the fact that the oldest Branagan brother Mark is better than the five currently on the squad and explaining why he has little interest in Gaelic football, there is plenty for the press to get their teeth into.
“We don’t have any fear of anyone but at the same time they are a brilliant team full of brilliant players,” is his assessment of Sunday’s opponents.
This is Branagan’s second All-Ireland final having come off the bench in Down’s 2010 one-point defeat to Cork, and he is hoping for more luck with his club compared to his county.
He knows he is in a privileged position, not just because Kilcoo have never reached this stage but also because he thought his playing days were behind him.
“Last year I said I wasn’t coming back,” said the 36-year-old. “We had four children all under five at that stage. I thought it was time to call it a day.
“I had declared myself out but we were looking for a new manager and I was brought in to be one of the boys to go and talk to the managers. I got tricked, I was in and there was no getting out.
“We had never dreamt of Mickey Moran, he was a bit of a myth.
“We didn’t think we were going to get him because we thought he had retired, he had quit.
“When we went to talk to him and he was interested we couldn’t believe our luck. Everyone was buzzing and that changed everything.”
Branagan was keen to stress the difficulties that they encountered in plotting a path out of Down this year.
Rostrevor and Warrenpoint gave them their fill of it while there can be no denying that Burren were the better side in their quarter-final replay with two late goals saving the Magpies.
They have actually looked stronger outside of the Mourne county and Branagan believes that manager Mickey Moran and the management team deserve a lot of credit for that.
“I suppose that’s what Mickey was trying to do, gradually build it up the whole way so that you’re peaking come the Ulster final.
“In other years we were peaking too early in Down, that’s the difference that he has brought.
“That’s where Ollie Cummings, our strength and conditioning coach, comes in. We have never has as little injuries and that’s a massive factor in us getting so far.
“Every other year we would be riddled with men missing, game-changers, but this year we are getting our full pick.”
Sunday will be a proud day for the Branagan clan. Five brothers are expected to be included in the first 15 with Aaron, newly-crowned Gaelic Life Player of the Year Daryl, Niall and Eugene set to join Aidan in the starting team.
“The oldest brother (Mark) is actually the best of us,” said Branagan.
“He’s quit but he was the best player by a mile, he was the forward you see.
“He’s proud of all the boys, he’s over the moon, but I suppose at the same time he probably wishes he was playing.
“There are six boys in the house and one girl (Janine) and she actually plays for Clonduff! There was no ladies team when she started to play and she did her Irish dancing and set dancing in Hilltown.”
She’ll not be wearing yellow this weekend though, it will be the black and white of Kilcoo.
Can the last person to leave the village please turn off the lights? The Branagans – and the whole of Kilcoo – are heading to Croke Park.