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.
“Firstly, you want to come on off the bench. Then you want to get on the team, and then you want to really start playing well.”
At this point Moran admits that he’s not playing particularly well, at least not in the last two matches against Donegal and Tyrone, although true form is often a bigger picture.
“I wouldn’t be particularly happy with the way I played the last day, against Tyrone. But you’ve a job to do for the team, and I think 85 per cent of that job was done. I just need the other 10 or 15 per cent.
“But there are things happening behind the scenes as well which people don’t see. I believe I’m not that far away, that there’s a big performance in me. If it happens in the final, it does; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But I believe that performance is there, and my training games would prove that.
“The knee is perfect. The fitness is perfect. That’s the key thing. It stagnated at times along the way, and they’re the hardest times, when you don’t see improvement. But most of the time, over the 12 months, you’re seeing improvement.”
Helping the year to fly by were the few significant adjustments is Moran’s life outside of the football – the little things like getting married, buying a house, and changing jobs.
He’d spent a year working with the Mayo/Roscommon Hospice, then felt he needed a change, partly with his football career in mind, and so he now works for a pharmaceutical company, as a business and development manager.
“I loved working with the Hospice, a great job, a really brilliant cause. But I did the year with them, and I suppose the lifestyle just didn’t really suit, I was out a lot at night, and then having to go football training at six in the morning. So it just didn’t suit it.
“Now I’m in the healthcare business, selling into pharmacies, and things like that, and it suits me fine.
“Like coming up to a big game, you hit the big hurling counties. Tipperary, Clare, places they wouldn’t recognise. You get the head shaved as well. I was actually in Tipp this week, and walking into pharmacies, no one has a clue who you are.”
All that matters now is delivering the best possible performance in Croke Park on Sunday, both individually, and as a team.
“Honestly, we’re not looking at this any differently than any other match. It’s a match against Dublin, a very good team. We’re a very good team as well. So whoever plays the better football on the day will win.
“The other finals we lost, especially in 2004, and 2006, we weren’t good enough. Last year, Donegal scored 2-1 in the first 10 minutes and we never closed back that difference. So the best team won on the day. If we play our best, our skills and fitness up to the level they have to be at, we’ve a great chance.
“I’d say this is the best prepared Mayo team that I’ve been involved with. And I would say this is the best prepared Dublin team as well. We’d be very confident, but you have to bring your performance to the table. If you did that you give yourself a good chance of winning.”