By Michael McMullan
KILCOO will be a test for anyone in Ulster if they can defend their Down title later this season insists Conleith Gilligan.
The All-Ireland champions lead the roll of honour with 19 titles, their most recent seeing the Frank O’Hare Cup return for a third successive season.
Gilligan and Richard Thornton were installed as joint managers after Mickey Moran stepped down earlier this month.
“Mickey has put a really good foundation in, whether we’ll be good enough to win a Down championship, that remains to be seen. It won’t be for the want of trying,” Gilligan told Gaelic Life.
“Richie Thornton coming in this year has just being magic. We knew he was available and we wanted something different. From the minute we met him, and Mickey doesn’t trust people very quick, he liked what he had to say and that the feeling was.”
Gilligan insists that Thornton gave Kilcoo the extra ‘five or 10 per cent’ to help them overturn the Corofin defeat and land the All-Ireland.
Kilcoo begin their Down league campaign next month with a trip to Bryansford with an even bigger target on their back as Ireland’s greatest club team.
“There is an assumption, even when I am at home in Ballinderry, that Kilcoo are always going to come out of the championship,” Gilligan said.
“That’s not the case and has never been the case in my time. The Down championship is so keenly fought, we could’ve been gone in the first, second and third year.
“One or one and a half points was the average (winning) margin through, so it will no different this year.”
Gilligan, now in his fourth year with Kilcoo, expects Burren, Carryduff, Mayobridge and Clonduff – the teams they overcame last season – to come to the fore again.
“We will have to be at our very, very best to get another Down championship,” Gilligan stresses. “If we could do that, I think we’d be a really big test for anybody in Ulster.
“The thing that is always within teams that are established is about getting out of your own county again without any massive amount of suspensions or injuries, that’s will we’ll be trying to do.”
Will hunger the magic word again for the champions? One of the hallmarks of their run to the Andy Merrigan Cup was a calmness, mixed with a refusal to throw in the towel.
“If you don’t win people always mention the word hunger…hunger is only part of it.” Gilligan insists.
“You have to have the ability and it has to match the hunger in the group.
“Micéal Rooney won (Gaelic Life) Player of the Year and he spent six months of the year in Liverpool commuting and doing the work on his own.
“When you have players that are prepared to do things like that for the cause, it always gives you a chance.
“Kilcoo are in a good place and now have a bit of tradition and it is now a case of if they can get it going again, they’ll be a big threat to anybody, but ultimately they’ll want to beat the challenge again.”
WATCH. – Micéal Rooney on his Player of the Year award. Click here…