Nine months on Andy Moran achieves his goal and gets back on the pitch
Even in a record win against old rivals Galway, the return of Mayo’s spiritual leader was the best news of the afternoon
Mayo’s Andy Moran celebrates scoring his side’s fourth goal with Cillian O’Connor against Galway last weekend. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
So much of what was positive for Mayo in the weekend’s demolition of Galway obviously reflected negatively on their opponents but the biggest cheer of the afternoon in Salthill had nothing to do with the home side’s discomfort.
In the 62nd minute the moment all of the Mayo supporters had been waiting for arrived, and Andy Moran made his appearance as a replacement and formally closed a difficult chapter for both him and the county.
It had been nine and a half months since the Mayo captain, spiritual leader and all-round warrior, had left the Croke Park pitch on the motorised stretcher in the 54th minute of the All-Ireland quarter-final thrashing of Down – a tumbrel ride to the diagnosis of cruciate ligament injury. He missed the high-voltage semi-final win over Dublin and the battling loss to Donegal in the final.
Through it all and this season’s league he’s watched and worked his way back to fitness and availability for selection.
“Three weeks ago there in Belmullet,” he says of his long-awaited comeback, “I had a word there with Kieran Shannon [team psychologist] and I said there probably wasn’t 20 minutes in me but we’ve worked tirelessly. Seán Moffatt led it, Liam Moffatt and Martin McIntyre – there has been [at least] one person training with me for the last six months and it’s great to have that resource.
“I played an As versus Bs game last week and I was involved in training the last two weeks. That’s the return-to-play protocol. That was my return to action. I was definitely coming on – that was in the return-to-play for me; to get on at any stage. I thought I would only get on when we were in trouble, to be honest with you, so it was great to come on in that position.”
On Sunday his form was sufficiently lively to secure the fourth goal of Mayo’s record-equalling championship defeat of their neighbours, 4-16 to 0-11. Four goals: twice what the team had managed in the eight-match entirety of the league!
“It’s taking the right decisions,” he says, citing the third goal when Cillian O’Connor set up Donal Vaughan with an empty net. “You saw what Cillian did to Donie. Cillian could have turned and had that chance himself but he gave it to Donie coming through.
“It’s about making the right decisions. During the league, we trained very hard and I suppose a lot of our decision-making was probably off at times. If you look at our goal-scoring chances in the league we were probably right up there but our finishing wasn’t.”
Mayo have been benefiting from the input of renowned Kerry coach Donie Buckley and his imprint on the forwards was detectable in both the work-rate – 2-3 scored in the first half from possession hounded off Galway defenders – and the decision making on the ball.
“I remember a game in the league in 2011 against Dublin,” remembers Moran, “and they annihilated us in the first half and we came back and I think that was our mantra from then on.
“Because when you get to the likes of Croke Park you can’t defend six on six so the forwards really have to be working harder than your defence. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since that day. Donie’s helped us and he’s been a massive influence around the place.”
There was a distinct contrast between the teams. Galway are inexperienced, playing out of Division Two and lacking the physical maturity of Mayo. Yet the champions still had to put to bed the old cliché that there’s never anything between the counties in championship football.
“We believe we’re a good team, we’re trying to win a Connacht title, we’re trying to challenge later on in the year if it comes to it. If we’re favourites against a Galway team in Salthill, that’s a mark of respect more than anything. It’s great to see that for us. Many times we have come here as underdogs and been well beaten,” says Moran.
He brushes off the show of emotion from the Mayo supporters that greeted his re-entry to senior championship orbit. “Yeah, I think they’re sick of listening to me, to be honest! It was good to get back on the pitch.”