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04th Jan 2020

Conor Laverty living proof that the small, clever player can beat brawn any day

Niall McIntyre

Conor Laverty was the smallest man in Breffni Park.

His steps are short and his legs and arms are skinny but there’s one thing that beats brawn every time and that’s a brain. Conor Laverty thinks his way around the pitch and whenever he’s near the ball, everybody in Kilcoo must know that the thing is safe.

Something good is going to happen.

Before the game, they worried that a Ballyboden sweeper might discard Laverty to the game’s periphery, that his flicks, tricks and clever moves might be gobbled up by the Dublin machine.

Boden tried their best, but there’s no catching a slippery eel. Just like it was in Ulster, the Kilcoo captain showed out in front and he ghosted in behind, at all times looking for the ball.

He pops up in such threatening positions that it would be unwise for a teammate not to give him the ball, then gets it and everything is well. The runners run and Laverty dictates the play.

Kilcoo had a sluggish enough start to things in the All-Ireland semi-final against Ballyboden. A few wild shots didn’t help and with the breeze at their backs they needed to be doing a bit more.

Laverty, as the wily old fox so often does, brought a bit of calm to it, providing the pass that set up Paul Devlin for the first score as well as the moment of genius that set up Ryan Johnston for a game-changing goal. Sometimes, all it takes is a little flick and Laverty’s clever tap down was enough to put the Boden defence off kilter and to send his man through.

Kilcoo were in the driving seat now.

Both teams had their moments from then on. The Basquels threatened for Ballyboden without really catching fire while Michael Darragh MacAuley was subdued. Indeed, many of their best performances came from a defence that has served them so well all year.

But in a ding-dong battle, it was Kilcoo’s attack who were that bit more threatening. The Johnstons, all three of them played well while the Branagan’s, Eugene and Darryl in particular, never stopped.

Everything sticks with a conductor like Laverty around and when he sent Darryl Branagan off for the game’s second goal it was all over bar a miracle.

There’s still a place for imagination in Gaelic football. Conor Laverty is living proof.

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