By Michael McMullan
TWENTY seconds. That’s all it took for Eugene Branagan to drink in the magic of a second Ulster medal before casting his eye on the next venture.
“Then the buzz goes away and you are thinking about the next game,” he said in the aftermath of their convincing win over Derrygonnelly.
Looking to the next hurdle isn’t a factor of the 16-point winning margin, but it’s more a tale of the Down giants’ ambition.
“Once you get over the line and there is still a competition there, you are thinking of the next game and you are thinking of the next buzz.”
Next up is the challenge of Munster champions St Finbarr’s with carrot of a return to Croke Park to challenge for a much-craved All-Ireland title.
There will be a familiar face in the blue of the ‘Barrs, with Conor McCrickard, a native of the neighbouring Liatroim club, at the fulcrum of their attack.
“I used to be best friends with his brother (Pearse Óg) and we went to the same primary school,” Branagan pointed out.
“Pearse Óg, Ceilum Doherty and Dylan (Ward) were all in the one class at primary school and got on very well.
“We know Conor inside out. In high school, he was unbelievable player, using both feet and had all the skill.”
Branagan is part of a defensive unit that has kept four clean sheets in eight games and chipped in with 2-29 of their side’s total, including his 0-5 tally.
Part of the Kilcoo blueprint is a level of fitness that makes it impossible for opponents to outwork.
Branagan states that while Kilcoo have always prided themselves on their fitness, the recent addition of Ollie Cummings as strength and conditioning coach has taken them to the next level.
Cummings – based outside Mickey Moran’s hometown of Maghera – was in Rory Gallagher’s backroom team in his first season with Derry. Moran had Cummings on board during his Sleacht Néill tenure.
“Our running, it is the most important thing in training,” said Branagan, part of Kilcoo’s
counter-attacking dimension from defence.
“In the tough games, in the last 15 minutes, we have it (fitness). That’s why we were able to play with Corofin with 14 men for so long and nearly get over the line and hopefully it will stand to us in the long run.”
And it all stems from their training sessions, where any dip in standards is frowned upon. The experience on the panel doesn’t accept anything below the optimum.
“They’ll call it in after 10 or 15 minutes to tell everyone to tighten up, or we’ll do runs,” Branagan stated. “We have to get the thing sorted and make sure every training ends on a high note and it shows in the games.”
Is it player or management driven? It’s both.
“The likes of Conleith (Gilligan), he has won it and he knows (what is needed). He is a great man to have there,” Branagan said. “He is great craic and he gets the players going. Richie (Thornton), he is the serious man, so we have a good cop and bad cop.”
Mickey Moran calmness knits everything together.
”It is the fact that he says so little, but what he does say the players take it on board. A minute at the end of training, you go home and you think about it.
“He is not taking and talking and talking. It’s just that one thing and you are thinking about it all night, the next day and until the next training session, it really sticks.”
A feature of Kilcoo’s Ulster bid has been the sight of their dynamic number seven cutting through midfield, with his black leggings.
“Everybody wears them in training,” began his justification, while admitting to the stick it has attracted.
“I was getting a bit of stick. It’s hard to believe I’d be out farming every day, but I have these on me.
“I think when they are coming to play me; they think I am soft, so it maybe it’s mind games as well.”
Branagan was also sporting odd boots – Adidas on the right and Nike on the left.
His left boot ripped in recent weeks, but superstition kicked in.
“I wore these (Adidas) two years ago and it was the most I have ever scored in a year, so it will be maybe do me no harm. I didn’t want to be buying new boots and next thing we are put out.”
Branagan will be hoping the leggings and odd books make it the length of Croke Park, as the Magpies aim to reach the pinnacle of club football.