David Moran makes his own mark as one of best midfielders in the game
Son of the legendary ‘Ogie’, Kerry’s man behind enemy lines
Kerry’s David Moran in action for Kerry against Donegal last summer. Photo: Inpho
There is something strangely illicit about meeting the Kerry footballer on Cork territory. The men most wanted by border control. The enemy let slip through the gates.
“Living in sin,” says David Moran. At least I think that’s what he said. Because Moran jumps in with a few of these disarmingly witty one-liners as quick as he jumps for a ball.
If he’s not immediately recognisable it’s partly because he’s dressed in a neatly pressed black suit. It’s also because at 26 Moran has only now made a name for himself as one of the best midfielders in the country. And if he’s not exactly hiding out in Cork it does make a change from being constantly recognised in Kerry as the son of their eight-time All-Ireland winner.
“The Kerry Parents Association,” he says, with another smile, the first little nod to his father Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran, and fellow greats. Because Moran’s current team-mate and best mate is Tommy Walsh (son of Seán), and he also grew up playing alongside the likes of Aidan O’Shea (son of Jack) and Eoin Liston (son of ‘Bomber’). All their old men won seven All-Irelands. No pressure then: if their sons didn’t win a medal of their own then they could probably find one in the charity shops around Tralee.
“I think in Kerry if you’re any good, then you’re better than any of they were. Or if you’re not as good, then you’re way worse. You’re never just as good as. I’d say all the Ó Sé’s always felt something similar, after Páidí (their uncle). There was never any pressure though. He (‘Ogie’) was always very encouraging, and the likes of Jack O’Shea is, as well. But it was always my dream as a youngster to play with Kerry. And when you’re young like that you always think you’re going to make it.”
If this also gives the impression of a privileged or somehow easier path to success then Moran soon explains why it’s not. Few footballers have ever worked as hard as Moran did to win last year’s All-Ireland with Kerry, his subsequent All Star award at midfield just one reflection of how brilliantly he went about it.
It’s a sunny morning on Lapp’s Quay, just around the corner from the Cork offices of Ernst & Young, where Moran is training in transaction and restructuring analysis. He’s also completing his final chartered accountancy exams, and speaks suitably earnestly about his job. Not that we’re here to talk financial services.
If anything it was during that low period, not last summer’s high, when being the son of an eight-time All-Ireland winner possibly became a burden. He’ll never be as good as his father now, will he?
“I definitely haven’t had it easy. There were a few years there where I was wondering if this is going to happen for me, would I better off just concentrating on my work, although I never once thought about giving it up. And if I did the cruciate again, even two or three more times, I’d go through it all again, to get back.”
This is coming from a player who has torn the same cruciate on the same left knee not once but twice and in quick succession. Then, just back from the second nine-month stretch of rehab, Moran tore half the retina inside his right eye – and for a while after that no one was sure when he’d be back. There were, naturally, concerns about whether his vision would ever be the same, and he’s still prone to the occasional eye floaters and black dots.
“The initial consultation on the eye definitely wasn’t good, and the doctor told me I probably couldn’t play for at least six months. So I had to make that call, for the third year in row, to the Kerry manager, telling him I was gone for the year. Eamonn (Fitzmaurice) was like ‘you’ll have to win the Lotto, or something, at some stage... this has to turn’. He was as gutted as I was.”
That was May 2013, and Moran – starving for football – came off the bench in a pre-championship challenge against Laois. He caught the first ball he jumped for, then took what felt like a harmless knock.
“I remember turning around to Aidan O’Mahony, asking him was my eye open or closed, because I couldn’t see anything out of it. He just looked at me, and asked, ‘what are you on about?’
“And the retina is not like a bone, which you know will mend. This was fluid, which is totally different. With the cruciate, it was almost easier, because you have to do the rehab, anyway, to get yourself right, for the rest of your life, whether that’s going for a jog, or whatever. With the eye, it was killing me, not knowing how it would react to the treatment. Thankfully it all came well in the end.”
The eye actually mended sooner than expected, and Moran made it back for the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final against Cavan, then came off the bench for the epic semi-final shoot out against Dublin. That was it: two appearances in three summers.
He’d watched both 2011 and 2012 championship from the sidelines. He tore his cruciate for the first time in April 2011, in a league match up in Monaghan, and in typically simple circumstances: “Just a tackle,” he recalls. “I fell down on the knee, and there was horrific pain for about 30 seconds. Then it eased quite a bit, so I got up, ran on for about 50 yards, and the knee felt all wobbly. I came off thinking it wasn’t that bad.”
Only the next day, at the Santry Sports Clinic in Dublin, Dr Ray Moran told him exactly how bad it was.
The following March, the tiresome recovery just complete, he was scheduled to feature in Kerry’s league match against Down.
He jumped into a club training session with Kerins O’Rahillys two nights, eager for some extra sharpness, and just like that, he was gone again.
“Same thing,” he says. “Up for a ball, came down, got a bit of a bang, and the knee rotated. But I’d done so much work, on both legs, and I really didn’t believe it was torn again.”
Indeed for the next week Moran didn’t believe it, resting it and working with the Kerry physio, Ger Keane. Then, after one little teaser of a run, the knee buckled completely and he was back up the road to Santry.
It’s also given him a greater appreciation of what it takes to win not just one but eight All-Irelands. He never felt any extra pressure or expectation being the son of ‘Ogie’ Moran, and certainly not from the old man himself. Although there’s no harm having an eight-time All-Ireland winner for some quiet words of encouragement.
“He’d always be kicking around with us growing up, took a huge interest, but there was never watching eyes. It was just the same as any parent, really. Although I knew always he’d done something, because everybody knows who he is, is coming up to him, and you’re always being highlighted.
“So for as long as you can remember, you’re known as ‘Ogie’s son’, or else I was ‘young Ogie’s brother’. Because my older brother, Brian, was far better underage, than I was. So there was probably more focus on him, as the first. He might have got a little more heat than I did. But that never bothered me, being compared to Brian, or to my dad. It was always my own aim. I always took it serious. It was always all my own choice.
“More than anything else he’s there for advice, like any father. He’s been very successful, and you can hop anything off him, and you know it will be as unbiased as possible. He’s been there, done that. He’s been dropped himself over the years, brought on and taken off. And when I was injured, he’d actually go through some of that, too. I think he was getting phantom pains in his knees.
“And you’d have some heroes from that era, like Jack O’Shea. My dad would always be taking about him. And as a midfielder, I’d a natural thing with him. And Jack would ring me, the odd time. His number would come up, and you’d be thinking ‘oh my God, Jack O’Shea!’ And you’d be hanging off every word. Like he rang me after the Mayo game, last summer, just to say well done, to keep it going. That kind of stuff. But you’d be hanging on every word.
“But as I got older, I got a bit better, so you enjoy it more as well. Like when I was on the minor panel, in 2006, the Kerry seniors were having a great run too. It was brilliant to be part of that. So you just want to get to the next step.”
In 2009, after winning that first All-Ireland, it seemed the next step in Moran’s career would be in Australian Rules. Tommy Walsh had been offered a contract with St Kilda, and Moran travelled over with him, half-expecting to be offered the same. Two weeks later Moran was on his way home.
“I’d like to have tried it. But I was under no illusions either, that it was some sort of fairytale career. Football is your work out there, your livelihood, all rolled into one. If you were playing well and making money everything is great. But if you’re not then everything is far worse. It would have been nice, to be a professional athlete for a while. But I wasn’t offered a contract. So that was that.”
He had a brief flirtation with rugby, too, although nothing serious, and as much as he loves to watch the game, he doesn’t necessarily envy it: “I don’t think to myself ‘could I have made in rugby?’ I’m a huge fan, have huge admiration for the likes of Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara. Every player would love to be professional, but I’m happy to be working on a career, too.
“And while professionalism would bring a lot to the GAA, it would also take so much. Like I’d read some soccer biographies, and you discover very quickly, it’s all about themselves, about getting the next contract. You don’t get that in the GAA. It’s not our livelihood, there’s a little more loyalty, and I like that. And I like my work, having a complete detachment from football, if it’s not going well, like last year. It keeps me sane.
“It’s a big commitment, a big sacrifice, and makes it difficult going up for promotion at work, against someone who can work evenings, or weekends. But I wouldn’t swap, not now anyway. And the one thing I learned, being out injured, with the two cruciates, is that as hard as it is to come in early, do all the extra work, drive back to Cork, late at night, it’s so much worse when you’re not doing it. It was when I wasn’t playing, I realised how much I missed it, and how brilliant it was to be part of it.”
All of which came to a beautiful fruition last summer – Moran’s own season perfectly mirroring that of Kerry themselves. Because it was a total rollercoaster: dropped after the Munster semi-final against Clare, coming on early in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway (after Bryan Sheehan got injured), then soaring in the semi-final draw, and replay, against Mayo.
His stats from that replay (47 possessions, over twice more than anyone from Mayo) gave the impression of a player finally releasing three years of frustration, although Moran never saw it that way.
“You’re so exhausted, just trying to stay with the pace. The only stat which matters is the final score, and all you’re thinking about is making the final. You’re definitely not thinking about the last three years. You’re just trying to survive.
“And I know it’s such a cliché but it really is a team game. Everyone was rowing in behind the team. I was dropped for the Munster final, and Peter Crowley was in the same boat. But there was no bitching, that was the beauty of it. Everyone just put the head down. Because these days, the role of the bench, people coming on, is so important.
“You also need to have massive self-belief, like you see with James O’Donoghue. Players are thinking if James is so confident, then why am I not? And that does drive us on.”
By the time of the final showdown against Donegal he was being billed as critical to Kerry’s chances of winning and Moran duly delivered. Now the expectation is he can soar higher again, as high as any of the Kerry greats.
“The only expectation I’m worried about is Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s, and the management. I’ve been playing so long, heard people saying different things, that I just try to be my own player, and leave the comparisons to others. Like there’s no comparison, I know, between the two All-Ireland medals I’ve won, in 2009, and 2014. Although I won’t be throwing out the first one, either.”
Not with another six to be won before he’s ever as good as his old man.