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
“I believe we’re going to win more than one, to be honest,” he said a week after Mayo had lost to Donegal. “If we win, we’ll keep going. This is a great group of lads and I wouldn’t be surprised in two weeks time if these lads are back training.”
James Horan since confirmed that he had to dissuade his players from returning to McHale Park such was their anxiety to atone for the loss. And Moran’s role in the weeks revolving around that defeat was central. An All-Star in 2011, he had retained that form throughout last summer until his season summarily ended with a cruciate ligament injury in the quarter-final victory over Down.
Horan set the tone by refusing to linger on Moran’s injury, stating that the captain would be the first to acknowledge that the injury was an opening for some other player to stake a claim. “It is disappointing. Andy is the heartbeat of the team – he’d be the first to say that it’s an opportunity for someone else.”
The refusal to entertain sentiment or to allow the loss to become a reason why Mayo couldn’t go on to win set a tone. Moran’s luck had been wretched but Mayo went on to decimate Dublin, the All-Ireland champions, in the semi-final. Suddenly, they were back in a final against Donegal, who had come from nowhere under Jim McGuinness. It was the most novel All-Ireland final in decades and Moran, the captain in crutches, became a cause for the team.
It didn’t happen, of course, and so Moran found himself in a Mayo dressing room after an All-Ireland defeat for the third time in his career. And yet just a week after that defeat, he gave a calm and logical appraisal of what he had witnessed from the stands.
“Did we lose to a better team over 70 minutes? We probably did. For the last 60 minutes, how good were we? I’d say we were as good a team as they were.”
The ethos and attitude was plain to see. In those few sentences, Moran did much to dispel the vague notion that there is some hidden force field preventing Mayo from winning an All-Ireland final. It wasn’t about the past or curses or collective anxiety or some fatalism within the county: they simply lost because they didn’t win.
They just needed to identify their strong points and work on their weaknesses. The lingering concern about Mayo teams has always revolved around the ‘baggage’ of previous defeats. Yet here was the team captain and a veteran of three huge September losses evincing nothing but can-do positivity and a calm certainty that it wasn’t a question of if his Mayo team would win an All-Ireland title, it was a question of how many.
And in the weeks and months after that All-Ireland defeat, it became clear just how immense a figure Andy Moran has become for Mayo. In the space of those seven seasons, he has moved from being Mickey Moran’s lucky charm substitute to the Mayo’s on- and off-field general. Andy. That’s what they call him.
Despite being absent throughout the league as he went through his slow recuperation from injury, Moran’s return was to be the signal that all was well within the county. The timing could not have been more perfect, entering late in the day of Mayo’s frightening demolition of Galway and scoring a goal.
The giddy dance of delight afterwards told everything of how long he had been waiting for that moment. Since then, Moran has, according to himself, tried to reacquaint himself with the pace of championship football. The point he scored in the relentless combination of high-octane quality scores with which Mayo pounded the All-Ireland champions into submission was another private triumph on the long road back.