Motivation no problem for long-serving coach Mickey Moran
Derry native doing his best to help Down kingpins Kilcoo get over the provincial line
Mickey Moran: the Kilcoo manager has coached teams at every level, club, colleges, county over four decades.Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
He will be there on the sideline in Omagh tomorrow, tucked up for another game of winter football.
The weather folk reckon it’ll be around four or five degrees come mid-afternoon. See-your-breath stuff, not that an Ulster club final would have it any other way. He’ll be there with the top zipped up and the hat pulled down, 67-years-old and still not interested in knowing any better.
Mickey Moran won’t be saying much but he’ll be wired into the game. Thinking, chiselling, making sure what can be done is being done. He’s been coaching teams for 40 years, first taking Derry training when he was still in his 20s and still playing. You’d think he’d have sense by now. Instead, he’d be affronted by the notion he doesn’t.
Kilcoo is his latest stop, the club in the hinterland of the Mournes that has swallowed the Down club scene whole over the past decade. Having gone 72 years without a county title, they’ve strung together eight of the last 11, including six on the bounce between 2012 and 2017. The problem, such as it is, lies in the fact that they’ve been able to carry those county titles only so far.
No Down club has won Ulster since the legendary Burren teams of the 1980s, who made it to six Ulster finals in a row and won them all. Despite being the first team in Down to win six county titles in a row since then, Kilcoo haven’t sealed the deal in the province even once. This will be their third final since 2012; they walked away from the other two with one arm as long as the other.
An Ulster title isn’t a given for anyone but even so, you’d imagine the law of average would have bought them one by now. To put it in context, in the five decades since the All-Ireland club championships began, 13 clubs nationwide have put together stretches of six-in-a-row in their county. Of those, the only clubs who haven’t cashed in on a provincial title during that run are Kilcoo, Enniskillen Gaels and Wexford club Duffry Rovers.
Even if you just confine it to this century, their eight county titles puts them right up there in terms of dominant forces relative to the rest of the country.
Since 2000, 16 clubs have won eight or more county titles and only five of those 16 don’t have a provincial crown to go put the tin lid on their exploits – Kilcoo, Rhode, Tourlestrane, Cavan Gaels and Stradbally (the Waterford one).
Moran knows all about their travails in Ulster, if for no other reason than he was the cause of some of them. His stewardship of the bone-hard Derry champions Slaughtneil took Kilcoo out in the 2016 Ulster final and again in the first round the following year. There was no more than a kick of a ball in it either time but Kilcoo were never able to have that kick go their way.
He isn’t the type to go bulling about it but a notable feature of Moran’s first championship in charge of Kilcoo is the number of close games they’ve come out on the right side of.
Ever since walloping An Ríocht in the first tie of the Down championship back in August, Kilcoo have played seven games, six of which have been decided by a goal or less. They’ve won five and drawn one. Between league and championship in 2019, Kilcoo have been involved in 15 games that were decided by a goal or less. They’ve only lost three.
It’s 31 years since Moran first managed a club in the Ulster championship. It was Tyrone club Omagh St Enda’s back then, fresh off their first Tyrone title in 23 years. When they won their next one 26 years later, it was Moran’s Slaughtneil who beat them in the Ulster final. That’s the sort of career we’re talking about – long, knotted, unique.
Moran has had teams under him for four decades in all guises, from physical trainer to coach to manager. He has taken teams at every level and in every competition. At inter-county, he’s managed everywhere from Division Four to an All-Ireland final. Club, county, colleges, wherever.
Despite his longevity, he doesn’t have what you’d call a public persona. He generally sends players and selectors out to do the talking around games. He’s not one of those coaches who feels the need to remind everyone of his genius. He is who is he – quiet, a bit intense, deep into the football but not so deep that he gets overbearing with it.
“Mickey Moran is a good man and the world is full of snarling bolloxes,” said Brendan Devenney in an interview a few years back. “Mickey Moran is a gentleman who tries to play football the right way. If that didn’t get him all the way then so be it, but I think some people should stick to their principles and I wouldn’t want to change him one bit.”
It has got him this far. If it gets Kilcoo across the line tomorrow, mark it off as another little corner of the Gaelic football world that owes him a debt.