Lonely rehab nights turn to All-Ireland final day for Andy Moran
Now only Dublin stand in the way of the ultimate happy return for the key Mayo forward
Mayo’s Andy Moran admits he felt “the lowest” he ever felt after last year’s losing final against Donegal, which he missed because of his cruciate ligament injury injury. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
“I believe we’re going to win more than one. If we win one, 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. That’s the sort of group they are.”
It’s not yet a year since Andy Moran spoke those words, standing in the lobby of the Mayo team hotel, on crutches, his right knee still in plaster after recent surgery on his torn cruciate ligament.
It was the morning after Mayo had lost the All-Ireland football final to Donegal, it was pouring rain outside, and stuck in that moment, it was impossible not to fear for Moran’s enduring positivity – or to feel, that at age 28, his future might somehow be a thing of the past.
It’s not yet a year on, and not only have Mayo won their way back into the All-Ireland final, but Moran has won his place back too.
Now, only Dublin stand in the way of the perfect bookending to Mayo’s year, and just reward for Moran’s unfailing positivity.
Except it hasn’t been quite so straightforward, and Moran’s positivity does have a pause button. He admits he felt “the lowest” he ever felt after last year’s final, that there were plenty of “demons” in the head, and that even now his form is still short of his best.
But the year has simply flown, and even during those lonely moments of rehab, Moran never once thought of quitting, or he might not win his place back.
“No, never,” says Moran. “Football would be a principal light in my life. I love the game, dream about games. Like playing Dublin in an All-Ireland final. If that doesn’t keep you motivated, nothing will.
“But there were times when the guys were training on the main field in Castlebar, and I was out the back field, myself and Ed Coughlan (the Mayo selector), really going at it.
“There’s demons in the head there, that you need to get rid of. There’s a loneliness to it, too, and I never experienced that before, to be honest. The other low came when I started back running, and the knee wasn’t improving, in terms of being able to twist, and turn.
“I broke my leg the year before, but I didn’t miss a game. I don’t think I really missed much training, either.
“With the cruciate, you’re just there by yourself most of the time. I think I’ll talk a lot more openly about it in a couple of weeks’ time, after the All-Ireland, but of course the biggest thing for me was what Mayo needed to do on the pitch, to get back to this scenario again, 12 months later, and we’ve done that.”
Yet as team captain, the 2011 All Star had added incentive to push himself during those lonely nights in Castlebar.
His initial target was just being on the panel for Mayo’s opening championship match, against Galway, but with each passing week those targets were revised.
“Even missing the semi-final last year, against Dublin, was very was emotional, because it was the first championship game I missed since 2005, I think.
“The final was just horrible, too. I had to show the face, things like that, but I was the lowest I’ve ever been after a football match. I like talk, as people know, but at times you get sick of talking, sick of answering the same question, all the time.
“So before the Galway game, this year, I’d have been happy to play one minute. When you come back from an injury, your main focus is coming back. Then when you come back, you get a bit greedy, and you want to be on the team.