Kilcoo and former Down Footballer Conor Laverty pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship Final where they face Corofin of Galway on Sunday at Croke Park.
Kilcoo and former Down Footballer Conor Laverty pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship Final where they face Corofin of Galway on Sunday at Croke Park.

Determined Laverty still key to Kilcoo success


By Michael Devlin

To watch Kilcoo’s Conor Laverty dart about the field, you would estimate that he wouldn’t be much more than ten stone in weight.

Slight and diminutive, full of craft and guile, he is the engineer of the Kilcoo attack, opening up avenues for his team-mates around him and making the whole operation tick along like a clock.

His Ulster Club Final performance against Naomh Conail embodied what Conor Laverty brings to the table. In the first half, he was the conduit through which the Kilcoo attack flowed, popping up everywhere inside the ’45 to manufacture the scores that put his side in the driving seat. He was centrally involved in 1-3 of his side’s total in that opening half-hour.

By the end of the game, with Kilcoo up by two and fending off a late siege from the Donegal men, Laverty was back in his own half, fixing up around his defence with an assured composure and impeccable industry that helped his team mates keep a lid on the boiling pot and see out a long-awaited Ulster triumph.

Laverty and Kilcoo joint-captain Aidan Branagan lift the Ulster Club SFC trophy back in December.
Laverty and Kilcoo joint-captain Aidan Branagan lift the Ulster Club SFC trophy back in December.

It showcased that Laverty is more than just your typically whippet-built, nippy corner forward. From early on in his playing career, even before representing Down at inter-county level, Laverty was acutely aware of the need to be strong and sturdy in order to supplement his physical build and particular style of play.

“I would have done my time in the gym as well. I knew I had to do it,” says the 35-year-old. “I was right up there, even on county squads, pound-for-pound as strong as anybody. Even against stronger lads I always held my own, and I put a lot of work into that.

“I put a gym in my own house and made sure that it wouldn’t be the downfall. I knew stature-wise I would always be that bit smaller, but I knew I needed to be that wee bit stronger in tackles and that. I put the work in.

“I would say that it’s not the be-all and end-all for any lad, but you still have to get it done. I enjoyed it. There is a place for it in the modern-day game, maybe not as rigid as the way some teams take it to, but it’s definitely a very important aspect of it.”

Laverty in action for Down against Galway's Gary Sice in the 2005 All-Ireland U21 Football Final in Cusack Park, Mullingar. The two will meet again in Croke Park this Sunday, with Sice lining out for Corofin.
Laverty in action for Down against Galway's Gary Sice in the 2005 All-Ireland U21 Football Final in Cusack Park, Mullingar. The two will meet again in Croke Park this Sunday, with Sice lining out for Corofin.

It's a given of course that a player like Laverty would come in for some special treatment from over-zealous cornerbacks, especially in more traditional times when he was starting out in senior football nearly two decades ago.

He was always fully game however for whatever physical challenges came his way during matches, relishing it even.

“I always thought I could handle it and look after myself. I had great battles down through the years, but look that’s the enjoyment side of it. Whenever you and a corner back are going at it, and it’s hell for leather. I didn’t mind that kind of stuff.

“It didn’t bother me at all if someone wanted to play football or if they wanted to get at it. It was fine either way, you still had to focus on the ball.

“We always learned that growing up, to keep it focused on the ball and play away. If boys wanted to mix it, it didn’t matter, it was about the next ball that counts.”

“We always learned that growing up, to keep it focused on the ball and play away. If boys wanted to mix it, it didn’t matter, it was about the next ball that counts.”
“We always learned that growing up, to keep it focused on the ball and play away. If boys wanted to mix it, it didn’t matter, it was about the next ball that counts.”

Ahead of Sunday’s final with Corofin, Laverty is confident that Kilcoo’s build-up to the game will be a replicate of how the team prepared for the Ulster final, and the All-Ireland semi-final with Ballyboden a fortnight ago.

“It was just different, completely different to anything I’ve ever experienced before going into a game,” he says of the atmosphere going into the provincial decider. “A calmness, but with an edge to it. I had a great feeling going into that game, and I said to the boys going into the huddle after the warm-up, ‘I think this is different’.

“Because everyone was saying, ‘Ah they’ve done Ulster now,’ that was it done and dusted, but it didn’t feel that way. The same as Glenties, [the Ballyboden game] just felt like another game.

“I know it is an old cliché, you take every game at its time, but it just was something Mickey [Moran] has bred into us. We’re not looking ahead of ourselves, we analyse the other team but we’re fully focused on ourselves.

“I think that’s one of Mickey’s brilliant strengths. He has that ability to get the best out of each player on the squad, and I don’t mean from one to 15, I mean from one to 45 or 46 lads.

“To keep them other 20 lads on their toes and happy, some of the games we’ve had down in our training this year has been ferocious. The lads who weren’t getting game time were giving us hell for a couple of weeks in training matches.

A jubilant Conor Laverty following Kilcoo's AIB All-Ireland Football Club Championship semi-final win over Ballyboden.
A jubilant Conor Laverty following Kilcoo's AIB All-Ireland Football Club Championship semi-final win over Ballyboden.

For all that Kilcoo have achieved so far, Laverty says that now is not the time to be resting on laurels and eulogising on the high points of the journey so far. The highest peak could come right at the end.

“Life goes on, and you have to live in the present. There’s no point looking back and thinking, ‘Ah it’s great to beat Ballyboden and brilliant to win an Ulster championship’.

“At the end of the day, you need to live in the present day. We have a task ahead of us and we want to enjoy it, but it’s going to be a challenge. What other way would you want it? You’re coming up against the best team in Ireland.

“It’s something that every young fella dreams about whenever you’re growing up, to play with your club in Croke Park, to be part of a squad that was gone on an unbelievable journey. We’re just delighted to be in the position we are in.”