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Andy Moran: a poster boy for pursuing excellence

Sport

Andy Moran leaves behind a treasure trove of memories

Feature
Edwin McGreal

ANDY Moran is about to step onto the Mayo team bus in the bowels of the Hogan Stand when he hears his name being called.
Given the nature of the defeat to Dublin, it would have been easy to keep the head down, pretend he didn’t hear anything and get on the bus.
But that would not be his style.
Moran stops and sees two Dublin fans, one an elderly woman with a zimmerframe and the other a woman roughly half her age, making their way towards them.
They ask for a photo. Moran, with a cap on his head, obliges. The elderly woman stands beside Andy while her younger companion gets the snap.
Andy smiles, gives them a few words but as they prepare to part, the cap cannot hide the emotion in his face as he gets ready to leave Croke Park for the last time as a player.
The younger woman recognises the emotion and she and Moran hug, no words are needed.
After the final whistle sounded an hour or so earlier, the Mayo number 24 walked towards Hill 16 and applauded the Dublin supporters up there.
There is something fitting about him bowing out against the Dubs given all his big days against them.
And something fitting too about his last act before departing being an obliging one, with opposition fans, because it was not just Mayo fans who adored Andy Moran but he had that rare ability in such a tribal sport to win admirers all over the country.
It was not just his football ability, but his warm personality and ‘everyman’ quality, just like what we are watching beside the Mayo team bus.
No major Minor
FROM his younger years it was far from obvious the Ballaghaderreen man would become a Mayo ‘great’.
In his final year at minor in 2001 he only started one game, the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tyrone.
He developed while studying at Sligo IT and playing Sigerson and lined out for two years at Under-21, including the All-Ireland final defeat to Armagh in 2004.
By then he was in the senior squad too, under John Maughan. He featured quite a bit that summer, making his championship debut in New York – and helping himself to five points – and came off the bench in every other game bar the All-Ireland semi-final replay.
He had driven on considerably from his minor days, but think of his first big senior moment for Mayo. . . that goal off the bench to turn the game against Dublin in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final.
When he was still only an impact sub.
Andy was 23 by the end of that year; considering the player he became it jars that he wasn’t an established player by then.
He did go on to start every championship game under John O'Mahony from 2007 to 2010 but 12 points from play in 12 games was hardly a sign of a man catching fire, even if 2009 saw him play most of his football at wing-back.
Indeed, by the time James Horan came along at the end of 2010, it would not have been a huge shock had Moran suffered from ‘the cull’, as Colin Sheridan noted in The Examiner last week.
There was a fear that time was running out for him.
But it would have been a catastrophic mistake to give him his papers. Thankfully, Horan saw things differently and went the other way — he made the Ballaghaderreen man his captain.
Hoping to bring this group of underachieving players and young players with potential on a journey of self-improvement, who better as a poster boy for this than Andy Moran?
Billy Joe Padden summed it up perfectly in last week’s Mayo News, arguing that players like Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor may not have developed the way they have without Andy’s example and leadership.
He led the way in improving himself as a footballer, knitting together so many different inches to keep improving year on year.
He was never the quickest, which makes his performances all the more laudable.
Moran was, however, perpetual motion.
He would make several runs before getting on the ball, shaking off his marker with his ability to stop and turn in a heartbeat. But as he got older he learned to move smarter too, keeping his runs tighter to the goal.

Cruciate woes
HE lifted the Nestor Cup twice as captain, in 2011 and 2012, before he was sidelined cruelly, tearing his ACL against Down in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
It is possible to exaggerate how much of a loss he was in that year’s final with his brilliance of 2017 so fresh in our memories.
But Moran was a pivotal player that year too, he was the outlet inside for so much ball. It stuck to him like velcro and others thrived off his possessions.
We tracked that All-Ireland Final defeat to Donegal and, incredibly, 2-7 out of the opposition’s 2-11 came from turnovers where the ball did not stick in the Mayo full-forward line.
It is always hypothetical to wonder if a player would have made a difference if absent through injury or, say, a red card.
Games take on a life of their own, but you can’t help but wonder how close to glory Mayo would have been if Moran did not tear his cruciate?
His recovery was slow, as that awful injury tends to be. He returned with a goal which nearly lifted the roof off the stand in Pearse Stadium in Mayo’s hammering of Galway in May 2013.
But though he would start that year’s final — and was excellent, scoring 1-2 — it was a marginal call between him and Michael Conroy for the final spot in the forward line.
Andy was often vying with the likes of Conroy, Alan Freeman and Enda Varley for a starting berth.
He was only on the bench for the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry in 2014 and in 2015, did not start any of Mayo’s last three championship games.
He also didn’t start any of Stephen Rochford’s first three championship games in charge in 2016 either.
It is hard to countenance now given how he did in 2017, but many felt Moran was only an impact sub’ by then and might be better off calling it a day.
It takes a huge amount of self-belief to keep at it when so many think your starting days are over.

Self-belief
BUT the knee injury had a big impact, as did his work schedule.
Opening his own gym was a seminal moment for Moran, as was his lifelong friendship with Mayo’s strength and conditioning guru, Barry Solan.
He had the tools now to make the most of his final years as a Mayo footballer but tools are no good sitting in the shed gathering dust.
Moran’s application made all the difference and the results were incredible.
All his toil and effort came to the boil in 2017 with as good a year as we have ever seen from a Mayo footballer.
He ended up as ‘Footballer of the Year’, deservedly, even though Dublin denied Mayo the All-Ireland by a single point.
Andy Moran hit 3-23 from play that summer, arguably the finest performances were in the All-Ireland semi-final draw and replay against Kerry, where he helped himself to a total of 2-6 from play.
The first sign of a big year to come was, in fact, down in Tralee in February. He scored three points that day, but the way he led the line was incredible.
We charted him winning 13 balls out in front that evening. Given how many lateral runs Moran makes before he makes ‘the run’ for the ball, that’s some amount of movement. Kerry had been forewarned.  
For those who were there, his two goals off the bench to snatch victory in the FBD win over Roscommon in Kiltoom a few weeks previously was one of his highlights.
Because of how good he was in 2017, it still seems like there could be more in him for 2020. Moran showed in Newry this summer, in Croke Park against Meath and in MacHale Park against Donegal just how crucial he remained to Mayo.
But how could you make any demands on a man like him, for all his years of efforts, who has a business to run and, most pertinently, a wife and two young children.
His commitment, and theirs, have been considerable.
Andy Moran leaves behind a treasure trove of memories but, so much more than that, he leaves behind his example of how to make the most of yourself.
If today’s rising crop of footballers in Mayo can learn from Moran’s example, the best part of his legacy is yet to come.
He was an example of how to get the very best out of yourself.
Indeed, Andy Moran was a lesson for coaches everywhere as well.
When looking at potential stars, he showed the importance of not just looking at ability — and Moran had loads of ability, make no mistake about that — but also looking deeper.
Looking at attitude, and character, and personality. Because Andy Moran is a perfect example of how far you can bring yourself with the right application and attitude.
Indeed, it is quite telling that Mayo's two ‘Footballers of the Year’, Moran and Lee Keegan, were both only bit-part players at minor level.
It didn’t stop either of them, if anything perhaps it helped them drive on even more in the pursuit of excellence.
Have there been more gifted footballers who played for Mayo than Andy Moran?
Quite probably. But the best tribute we can pay him is no Mayo footballer got as much out of himself as he did and the end result was one of the best Mayo players of all-time who it was our privilege to watch.

MPU Mayo

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