BILLY Fitzpatrick called him ‘a brilliant target-man with a brain’ during last Sunday’s Mayo Senior Football Championship semi-final, and Kieran Langan cracks a smile as we relay the Midwest Radio analyst’s description.
“Well, I’ll take that as a compliment!” he smiles. “I’ve had to adjust this year. I’m full-forward this year. I’ve played wing back, I’ve played midfield ... All I’m [having] to do [now] is win the ball inside. And if I’ve guys on my shoulder like Peter Naughton who are well able to kick the ball over the bar, I’ll give it to them.”
Lest there be any doubt, the Currabaggan man is perfectly capable of taking his own score too. He got two points against Breaffy last Sunday. We didn’t get a chance to tell him what Billy Fitz’ said next, which was to compare Langan with Andy Moran. Not bad for a man in his first year donning the number 14 shirt.
His effort was replicated all over the field. At one stage in the second half, Knockmore wing back Justin Rice ran 40 yards to get his boot to the ball. They lost Andrew Keane to a second yellow card shortly afterwards, but at times, it felt like it was Knockmore that had the extra man, as they swarmed opposing ball-carriers like bees on a honey pot.
“That’s just a testament to the lads out on the pitch, the work-rate,” commented Langan, not disagreeing with our suggestion about the perceived numerical imbalance. “It’s 15 on 15, but our lads wanted to get in there. They wanted to make that two or three yards, to get in and make that tackle. It’s very easy just to stand off two or three yards and allow one of their lads a straight run in on goal. But if you have lads that are willing to run and make that tackle, it makes such a difference. And you mightn’t even get a hand in, but ... you’re putting the man on the ball off.”
Knockmore have been perennial bridesmaids in recent times, always in or around the last four, but not in a final since 2009. They turned Breaffy over in the 2014 quarter-final, but semis have been a step too far. That changed last Sunday.
“It’s been goals that’s killed us,” explains Langan, who’s part of the ‘Keep Fit’ team at Elverys Sports. “Goals in the last ten, 15 minutes of second halves when we were tiring. We put a huge emphasis this year on getting our defensive structure right, and if that meant bringing ten, 11, 12 lads back behind the ball, and break at pace ... so be it.”
Tommy O’Reilly’s first-half goal kept Breaffy in contention, but the parish of backs weren’t going to be denied. Langan lauds the work done by trainer Michael Moyles, and paints a picture of a group that are the current standard-bearers of a proud tradition.
“There’s one thing about this team ... we keep going,” he says. “There’s a great attitude there, a never-say-die attitude. And today we got the rewards … We dug really deep [in] the last ten minutes. [We] missed a couple of scores that probably would have given us a cushion, but we still kept digging. And one thing you’ll always get with Knockmore is we’ll never, ever lie down.”
The defender-turned-attacker is full of praise for the younger players, college students who ‘eat, drink and sleep football’. This is Langan’s 14th year in the panel. In his first, they won a league title, and – as he memorably puts it – “you’re thinking at 17, 18, they’re just gonna fall in front of ya on a table”. It hasn’t quite worked out like that.
“But hopefully come next week, the 14-year wait that it’s taken me to get there will be over,” he says. “And if you told me 14, 15 years ago that I’d have to wait till 31 to win a county title, I’d say ‘Yeah, I’ll take that’.”