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Past experiences key to winning tight games says Gilligan

By Michael McMullan

LEARNING from past experiences has been the key for Kilcoo in the heat of battle stresses assistant manager Conleith Gilligan.

The mood in the camp and the preparations have been positive as they set out to take on Derrygonnelly in a rematch of their semi-final of two seasons ago, a game decided by a 38th minute goal from Aaron Branagan in a 1-8 to 0-9 win.

Gilligan confirmed that Daryl Branagan will be available for selection and didn’t come off with in their last game – after coming on 20 minutes earlier – with a recurrence of a hamstring injury that curtailed his season thus far.

“The physios thought that would be the maximum he had in him, it was to protect him,” said Gilligan of the decision to take him back off again five minutes before the end of their extra-time win over Glen.

It was another tight encounter in Kilcoo’s title defence that also included a one-point win over Carryduff. Their 3-13 to 1-8 victory over Ramor United was their most convincing win of the season.

Looking back at their opening round win over Mayobridge, Gilligan referenced the Magpies hitting two late points and a goal with the last play in a six point win that saw them hit four goals.

“A lot of our games have been extra time and one or two point wins,” he said.

“There would be a perception that we’d have a handy road in Down and that’s not actually the case. The games are all really tight and it’s something they have been used to.”

While Kilcoo’s preparation is meticulous and video analysis plays a part and takes them so far, much of their decision making comes from years of experience as Gilligan explains. Games scenarios in training don’t tell the full story.

“All of a sudden you come to a game and something totally different happens, they’ve a different player in that position. Everything you have worked on can go out the window,” he points out.

It’s not about being rigid and insisting on ‘doing A, B or C’ during a game, but rather players taking ‘ownership’ of how a game swings along the way.

“That gives them the freedom that they are not hamstrung trying to do something if it is not the right thing” Gilligan adds.

“You just trust them (the players) that they are going to make the right decisions whenever the situations come.”

One such decision was Jerome going for goal in during extra-time of their win over Glen. When Paul Devlin popped him the pass, he still had two defenders in the vicinity, goalkeeper Connlan Bradley to beat and a less than favourable angle. But a point down, the assassin in Johnston was never going for safe fisted point.

“That’s something he has in him, that killer instinct that when the goal is on he wants to go for it,” Gilligan said. “You looked at it and at that stage you’re thinking ‘a point’s a good score’ just to bring it back. In hindsight, it was a big moment and the goal was the difference in winning that game and maybe not.”

Another factor in the Kilcoo wheel is manager Mickey Moran, who goes about his business away from any spotlight. Like he did with Sleacht Néill, his management team take care of any media obligations and it’s the former Derry manager’s quiet demeanor that has been the perfect mix for Kilcoo, a club fanatical about its football and with the fire in the belly required when a game is in the melting pot.

“Anybody that has been in around with Mickey loves him.” States Gilligan, who said Moran will be able to holiday ‘forever’ in Kilcoo.

“It is easy on the line whenever things are happening for everybody to lose the run of themselves a bit, but because Mickey is not doing that it keeps everybody calm,” he adds.

“When the sideline is calm, that transfers out onto the players and you make better decisions whenever you are not pumped up high on adrenaline. I think it is great for everybody to be involved with him.”

If Kilcoo are to add a second Ulster title this weekend, Gilligan said his side will need to on their guard and admits he was one of the few people that tipped Derrygonnelly to beat Dromore in Carrickmore.

“They’ve got big physical men ad add into the fact that are very good footballers as well. It makes it very difficult.

“I knew that physically they were going to dominate that game. We have the utmost respect for Derrygonnelly, especially the fact that we were very lucky the last time, we’ll be on our guard.”

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