Wednesday 11 December 2019

Coaching and college all in a day's work for Laverty

Conor Laverty. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Conor Laverty. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

It is scarcely scratching the surface of Conor Laverty's lifestyle to suggest he's an extraordinarily busy man. The 34-year-old captains Down champions Kilcoo in today's Ulster club final against Naomh Conaill in Omagh, he manages the club's minor team which begin their Ulster campaign next weekend, he is the full-time GAA development officer in Trinity College, he is the father of four sons between the ages of two and eight and is the new coach of the Monaghan football team.

He has always been wedded to his beloved Kilcoo. Founded in 1906, Kilcoo won nine Down championship titles during the first 31 years of their existence, but then had to wait another 72 years for their next title.

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Since then they have been making up for lost time, winning six titles in-a-row between 2012 and 2017 and eight in total since 2009. Even though Laverty has been a central figure in all those wins, since his mid-teens he has also had a coaching career with Kilcoo's underage teams.

"It is just something I've always enjoyed doing," he says. "I feel it is very important for current and past players to go back and give something to the underage team because somebody did it for us when we were starting off."

His devotion to the job is underlined by the fact that within hours of the club's Down championship final win over Warrenpoint this season, he was back home taking the minor team for a training session.

"There are six minor players on the senior squad this season and we have a great understanding with the senior management team and work very closely with them. The boys were fully focused on the senior team the week leading up to the final. But we needed to switch very quickly. There was no one missing - nobody misses training."

Last year's surprise defeat by Burren in the county final prompted a change of management and the club succeeded in persuading Derry native Mickey Moran to become the new team boss.

"We were very lucky to get him on board," says Laverty of Moran, who was in charge of Slaughtneil when they beat Kilcoo in the 2016 Ulster final. The Down side were also beaten finalists in 2012. Indeed, they struggled to reproduce their county form in Ulster.

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"When we were growing up our sole focus was on winning a Down championship. We endured a lot of heartbreak until we got there. As a group of players we decided at the start of the year to treat each game as a new challenge and just concentrate on our own performance.

"Outside the group it would be nice for the club and the parish and even the men who have put a lot of work in down through the years to get over the line (in Ulster). It would be recognition of their work."

The former Down player adds: "It was nice to represent my county but the highlights of my Down career would be all down the list compared to the Kilcoo ones."

Laverty has spent nearly a decade working in Trinity College, a 90-minute drive from his home in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains.

He acknowledges that initially it was a culture shock. He grew up in a place where the only thing that mattered was Gaelic football, but it was way down the priority list in TCD.

"It took me a wee while to adjust to the GAA not being the be-all and end-all of everything. But listen, we are making good strides and have a lot of good structures in places. We have a lot of competition from the other big GAA colleges, particularly in Dublin, but we are pushing hard."

He has yet to formally begin his role with Monaghan but he is looking forward to working alongside their new boss, Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney.

"I didn't know him personally but he contacted me and we had a chat about my role and we talked a few times about it. He is a very passionate and driven man."

Growing up he admired his fellow county man Mickey Linden, but it was Tyrone ace Peter Canavan who he idolised.

"He was number one - nobody could touch him. It's just the fact he was a small, inside forward and that's where I saw myself playing so that's who I looked up to."

Laverty can never emulate his hero in terms of All-Ireland wins but today he can match Canavan's achievement at club level and secure an Ulster medal.

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