Mayo’s Andy Moran picks himself up where he left off last year
Some big names in Mayo panel for game against Galway in Connacht FBD league
A disappointed Andy Moran with daughter Charlotte at the end of 2017 All-Ireland final in Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
At age 34, over 150 league and championship appearances, entering this his 15th season with Mayo as footballer of the year, and a second child on the way very soon, the last thing Andy Moran needs to be doing is playing the opening round of the Connacht FBD league.
Most players of Moran’s vintage would not be seen until at least the daffodils were in bloom, wrapped up instead in the proverbial cotton wool and slowly sipping from the regeneration well.
But if some players like to gently invite the new season on, others prefer to light out after it with a club, Jack London-style.
And no one knows Moran’s limitations better than himself. His performances for Mayo last summer were a revelation on several counts – not least in defying his then supposedly ancient 33 years. Even if the end result ticked another box of regrets it did nothing to lessen his desire to keep chasing the now ultimate football salvation.
Moran has another reason for making himself available for Sunday’s opening game against Galway: the majority of the Mayo panel are away on their 10-day team holiday in Malaysia, the Ballaghaderreen man one of just three championship panellists to remain behind (given that second child is due this month with wife Jenny).
Goalkeeper and fellow 2017 All-Star David Clarke and midfielder Barry Moran have also stayed behind and likewise made themselves available for Sunday. Mayo manager Stephen Rochford was not actually part of the 70-strong travelling party either, and will thus take charge for Sunday’s game at Castlebar.
Moran has already said his 2017 form had little influence on his decision to continue for another season – perhaps even beyond.
“If anything, I think losing makes that hunger even greater, at least you’re still chasing something,” said the eight-time Connacht champion, part of six losing All-Ireland finals, including this year’s one-point defeat to Dublin.
“This thing about quitting, I’ll go when the likes of Stephen Rochford and them boys run me. I suppose that’s kind of the way we were brought up, from the town we’re from. So I don’t think I’ve ever had in my head that I’d ever quit.
“We’re in a very privileged position, from Mayo as you know, a bit nuts, as you say. Our first league game next year will probably have 15,000 people at it, at McHale Park, so that definitely makes it a bit easier in where we want to go to, and get to. In terms of football this is what we do, what we love, so we just go again.”
While the Mayo panel for Sunday is still largely developmental it does feature some other prominent names, including forward Alan Freeman and defender Kevin Keane.
Freeman, a five-time Connacht champion, opted out of the Mayo panel last February for work reasons: he started against Monaghan in the opening round of the Allianz Football League, and was also named to start the second round against Kerry only to be replaced before the throw-in by Andy Moran, who went on to deliver a prophetic man-of-the-match display. At 29, Freeman comes back on board with considerable experience.
Keane looked poised for a big 2017 after captaining his club Westport to the All-Ireland Intermediate football title, beating St Colmcille’s of Meath in Croke Park back in February, only to rupture his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) just seven minutes into that game. He’s now come through the long rehab, and at 26, part of the Mayo panel since 2012 and with four Connacht championships, strengthens the panel further.
Also part of the 31-man panel for Sunday are Ballintubber’s Jason Gibbons and Castlebar’s Neil Douglas, both of whom have previously featured on the Mayo panel. Also included are Seamus Cunniffe, Michael Hall, Michael Plunkett, Sharoize Akram, Matthew Ruane, Brian Reape and James Carr, all part of Mayo’s 2016 All-Ireland under-21 success.
With Alan Dillon being the sole prominent retirement from 2017, at first sighting the Mayo panel actually appears slightly stronger. Only time will tell.
With the championship panel not retuning until next Tuesday, this squad will also feature against Leitrim on Wednesday, that game also set for Castlebar.
After that Mayo play Roscommon (January 14th) and Sligo (January 21st), Rochford is likely to reintroduce a few more first-choice players ahead of the Allianz Football League opening against Monaghan on Sunday, January 28th, in Castleblayney.
Mayo did play a challenge last weekend, beating NUI Galway; Sunday’s opponents Galway have already an opening win in the FBD league, beating Sligo on Wednesday night 1-12 to 0-11.
Meanwhile, the Leinster Council have confirmed the draw for the Bord na Mona O’Byrne Cup semi-finals, to be played on Sunday week pending the outcome of this Sunday’s last round: Carlow/Meath/Wicklow will play Kildare/Longford/Louth; and Laois/Westmeath will play Dublin/Offaly/Wexford. Once again unlimited substitutions will be allowed in these games from the panel of 26 submitted to the referee.