Having reigned supreme in Down for the better part of a decade Kilcoo finally managed to get their hands on an Ulster club title following three previous final defeats.
They’re now just one win away from an All-Ireland club final with 2016 champions Ballyboden St. Enda’s standing in their way this Saturday at Breffni Park.
Much of the talk surrounding Kilcoo’s success is the strong Brannigan contingent that makes up their team. Aidan (36), Niall (32), Aaron (28), Darryl (26) and Eugene (22) have each played a starring role, alongside a host of other talents, in helping Kilcoo become Kings of Ulster.
Aidan Brannigan explains that while it’s good craic having his brothers on the team, he admits it’s not without its tension at times.
“It’s good craic with the brothers on the team, don’t get me wrong, but there’s plenty of arguments too. The car is hot and heavy coming home from matches, but it keeps you on your toes.”
For the eldest Brannigan, he admits winning Ulster this year comes as a huge relief having previously thought about retirement at the end of last season.
However, a county final defeat coupled with the appointment of Mickey Moran persuaded the former Down defender to give it one more crack. And how it has paid off.
“It definitely was, there’s no point saying it wasn’t (his last chance to win Ulster).
“Last year, we were iffy about coming back, then we got Mickey Moran and everybody said, ‘Look, we’ll give it another big push’ because we weren’t really leaving the team where it should have been after getting beaten in the county final.
“You talk about leaving the jersey in a better place, it wouldn’t have been in a better place if we’d have left last year. So it was definitely great to get the win in your twilight years.”
Brannigan claims the win has been massive for the club of Kilcoo and has everyone on a high heading into 2020.
“It’s massive for the club because it’s so small and tight-knit. Everyone knows everyone so everyone is on a high. Everywhere you go, its all anyone is talking about, so its great.”
Whilst the parish may be football mad, Brannigan admits he’s not much a “football man” himself, despite the picture his inter-county and club career paints. His relationship with football stretches as far as playing the game and helping to coach Kilcoo at underage, more so to keep the club going than anything else.
With a farm and four kids at home, it’s no surprise that he hasn’t much time for football outside of playing it. He doesn’t even know much about this weekend’s opponents, the former All-Ireland champions.
“I’m not really a mad football man. I’d watch a bit but I wouldn’t know the ins of outs of it. I saw 10 minutes of them (Ballyboden) that day on the TV but it was too hard to judge them because the weather was that terrible, but I’m sure they are a very good team. We’ll see on the day, and we’ll look more closely at them coming up to the match.
“We’re busy farmers because our dad’s not a farmer we run the farm ourselves, just the brothers. Between work on the farm and four kids, I am pretty busy.
“We just play and help out with some underage teams, we don’t take anything to do with committee or running of the club or AGM’s or anything like that. It leaves good distance that you’re not head over heels stuck with everything. It gives you breathing space so at least when you go to training, you switch off from home.
“Football would never be mentioned at home, its about the farm. So it’s a good thing.”
The Brannigan household may not talk football but the rest of the parish is admittedly buzzing ahead of Saturday’s maiden All-Ireland semi-final appearance.
“That’s it. Our club is amazing. You know, the people raising money and cutting the field and all that, it’s just a very good club. I suppose because there’s a little over a thousand people in the parish every single person has something to do with it. I suppose that’s why it runs so well.”
Their success, however, is by no means an accident or down to a special crop of players. Kilcoo have been lauded for their style of play which involves lots of intricate handpassing while running hard at the defence from deep.
It’s a style of play that doesn’t come from a manager but from the club itself. It’s Kilcoo football and it is how they will always play.
“It’s a Kilcoo style. A lot of men have been working on this for 20 or 30 years. They set up a youth program, maybe 27 years ago I think it started, and you could see that style from Under-6’s right on through, and it’s definitely paid off. I think our club was an average club until that started.
“It is, no point saying anything different. I see a lot of younger boys playing now, Darryl [Brannigan] and Jerome [Johnston], we took them at Under-14 level and we won the Feile with them. It was the exact same style if you watched it, what they played with and the way we play now. So that probably means it was so easy for the young boys to bed in, because they aren’t buying into a new system.”
While it may not have been a new system that got them over the line in Ulster, their success has to be pinned to something and having a legendary manager like Mickey Moran takeover clearly counts for something.
Brannigan admits the Derry man has brought a different psyche to the group.
“He’s probably just come in with a different psyche for us.
“It was never mentioned once in the dressing room (winning Ulster). It was always one game at a time. Even the final, it was never a final as such, you know what I mean?
“From day one, the first night he came and talked to us, he talked about, he said: ‘I didn’t need to be taking another team. I had more or less retired but I know this team can do it and I know you want to do it so bad’. A few of us went and met him and explained how much we needed to get over the line and he said, ‘Youse have got it and we can do it no problem’.
“So I suppose that was a big thing on its own, a man like that saying that.”