Andy Moran’s steady hand on the Mayo tiller
Inspirational captain is fully fit again and eager to lead his side into another All-Ireland final
Andy Moran at the Mayo team’s press night at the Breaffy Hotel in Castlebar during the week. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
MINUTES after Mayo had beaten Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2006, an elated Mickey Moran recalled a conversation that he had with Andy Moran just before he sent him into the match with 46 minutes gone.
“Andy Moran is a substitute. Usually a half forward. And we were putting him in for James Nallen. He turns to me and says: ‘I will get you a goal’. That’s what he said. ‘I will get you a goal’.”
If the Derry man was speaking aloud to somehow make sense of his thoughts and the extraordinary emotional surge through which Mayo somehow recovered from a seven -point deficit to beat Dublin through Ciarán McDonald’s late score – half left foot point, half epiphany – then it was understandable.
Everything about Mayo was predicated on ungovernable emotion in those years and that day of days surpassed all others.
It wasn’t just that the Mayo players had provoked the strange stand-off in front of Hill 16 by deciding to warm up at the Dublin end of the ground or that the team was a patchwork of promising young players, veterans from the nearly championship years of 1996/97 and, most evocatively, the returning brilliance of Kevin O’Neill, who had been largely ignored by Mayo selectors since 1993.
It was that everything about the day deepened the conviction that with Mayo, anything could happen. So if Moran was attributing a little bit of prophesy to his player’s promise, it didn’t seem out of place.
Andy Moran had gone on as a wing back and he had duly concocted a goal that gave Mayo’s stunning surge an unstoppable momentum. On that evening, anything seemed possible for Mayo football.
But instead of leading to the long coveted All-Ireland title, it brought only another September defeat, the second in three years at the hands of Kerry.
Now, that victory over Dublin is remembered as a moment of isolated splendour rather than the defining moment which set the Westerners on their way.
But seven seasons on, Andy Moran has moved from the versatile cameo player to the embodiment of the new mood and attitude within Mayo football.
By the end of 2006, Moran was at once a young player and a veteran of Mayo’s unhappy relationship with All-Ireland finals. In 2004, he was a substitute in the senior final defeat against Kerry and a week later played in the All-Ireland U-21 defeat against Armagh.
“I reckon we need to break our duck,” John Maughan, who managed both sides, said after that U-21 match. “A victory like that would have lifted our spirits. We need lifting down here, to be honest.”
But nothing, not even the return of John O’Mahony, could nudge the county senior team any closer to All-Ireland victory until the appointment of James Horan – a dark horse choice to succeed O’Mahony – introduced a new directness to the Mayo game. Andy Moran has been central to that.
Last September, he watched as non-playing captain of the team as Mayo lost the third All-Ireland final of his senior career.
In the months afterwards, though, he expressed none of the haunted equivocation which had characterised sentiments in the wake of previous All-Ireland defeats.