IN THE BEGINNING Mickey Moran and his assistant John Morrison are pictured last January during their first game in charge of the Mayo team in the FBD League.
End of the affair in sight
THE will-he-or-won’t-he shenanigans seem set to conclude this week. The doubts, the reservations, the speculation is at an end. Mickey Moran’s short reign as manager has concluded controversially . . . a sad, undignified parting to a relationship that tweaked all the emotions in Mayo football over the twelve months of his reign.
Mickey Moran and his assistant John Morrison had come to Mayo with an uncertain management pedigree. If anything they were more experienced in management that any previous manager taking over Mayo for the first time. Periods in charge of Donegal and Derry together were certain marks of distinction they brought to their joint interview.
Nobody doubted their credentials, but less convincing was their success in leading any of the two counties to any worthwhile title. In the wake of such depression in Mayo we wondered what they had to offer, how they might adapt to the Mayo psyche, what formula they could apply to a Mayo weary of traipsing from Croke Park with a chorus of ridicule burning our ears.
They came full of enthusiasm. The manner in which they organised the pre-Christmas trials, their dedication, their commitment to the task – together with the silent man of the selection team, Kieran Gallagher – eased our initial fears. In conversation, Mickey Moran was reticent, but you were left with the impression of a modest man, who was scanning the county for overlooked talent with a new, unbiased eye.
Performances in the league among the best teams in the country were satisfactory. Against Kerry in the opener under lights at Tralee, Mickey Moran brought a rare blush to the face of the kingdom. Morrison, the trainer, was noted for the psychological quirks of his methodology. He had everyone talking about the ‘nut’ in which the three full-forwards were all placed in the square, ready to dash to the wings for the fast delivery.
You had to be there to watch the three defenders of opposing teams trying to deal with this piece of original attacking play, some of them defending with their backs to the Mayo goal. It worked until managers devised counter measures, and then the ‘nut’ became obsolete and was abandoned. It was not the only novel idea Morrison introduced to training, and by all accounts the players were content to carry out the plans.
Moran placed a lot of trust in his subs. He treated them as members of the first side, all of them as important to the success of the team as the first fifteen. But while he did resurrect the careers of the likes of Kevin O’Neill and Aidan Higgins with considerable success a big, strong newcomer eluded him.
The muscle he needed had not been discovered. The class and skill of less physical players outweighed whatever advantage other players brought to training in terms of physical strength. The first real signs of Mayo’s physical shortcomings were bared when they lost to Peter Ford’s Galway in the final of the FBD League. It was a notable victory for Ford who was no stranger to Mayo’s physical vulnerabilities.
And when Galway repeated that success over their old rivals in the semi-final of the Allianz League at MacHale Park, doubts about Mickey Moran’s ability to solve that perennial problem took shape.
Thus, despite an adequate overall National League campaign we sauntered into the championship with those defeats by Galway the real measure of our progress. Hope of surviving in Connacht was less than buoyant. We would survive against London and Leitrim. But Galway was likely to retain the Connacht championship.
You felt then that Mickey Moran would have considered the winning of a Connacht final as an acceptable achievement in his first year at the helm. The winning of it was done in style, a dramatic last-gasp point by Conor Mortimer stealing a victory that should have been sealed long before that. Mickey Moran was happy with the result and, more to the point, with Mayo’s performance in general.
Yet, little or no confidence from their supporters accompanied Mayo on the journey to Croke Park for the quarte-rfinal. Laois under Mick O’Dwyer were clear favourites, and were still hotly fancied for the replay after Mayo’s dramatic recovery in forcing a draw. Faith was hard to find even among Mayo people.
Disharmony was the last thing we had thought of. The new management was making steady progress. To have reached the semi-final of the championship was way beyond the expectations of most Mayo people. Mickey Moran was at last being seen in a different light. John Morrison’s eccentric methods were succeeding.
They had done enough it seemed to justify their appointment even before Mayo met Dublin in the semi-final. To have beaten Dublin in what has been lauded as one of the best games of the century was a further feather in the caps of this new, curious partnership.
Not a word of criticism was heard. Whatever they had, it was working. Mayo were back in an All-Ireland final, and despite requests to keep the run up to the final low key, there was no doubting the new wave of anticipation washing over the county. On the laws of average this must surely be Mayo’s year. New management, new methods, the old Napoleon adage of selecting lucky generals were all trotted out as omens that an end to Mayo’s interminable misery was at hand and a new dawn was on the horizon.
Alas, it all went pear-shaped once more. And once more it is management that has borne the brunt of the criticism for the failure of the players to perform against Kerry. All of their achievements in guiding the team to the final were forgotten. The credit for their remarkable semi-final victory was put down to nothing more than a morsel of luck, rather than any solid sense of accomplishment by the team.
In the aftermath of the bitter disappointment of defeat, news of differences between the County Board and management emerged. Friction, it seems, was never far from the surface. Club fixtures before important games seem to have sown the seed for disharmony early in the year. There is talk of excessive costs incurred in running the team, in claims that overnight stay was not warranted for some league games, that management was demanding a greater input of finance into the team’s preparation.
Criticism of the performance of management was aired at a meeting of the County Board and reached all the way back to the two Northern Ireland men which prompted the resignation of John Morrison.
The criticism was a bit harsh. No similar censure was publicly aired in the wake of John Maughan’s failures. To have reached the all-Ireland final at their first attempt was by any standard a triumph to be extolled . . . and deserving of at least a further stint at the helm.
Maybe the antipathy between the Board and the manager ran deeper than anything that is already in the public domain. Harmony between Board and management is essential to success, and it has been known that Mickey Moran did fail to attend some meetings set up especially for his convenience by the board.
In keeping with his personality Moran has been less vocal than Morrison about the yawning chasm that divides the Board and them, and up to Tuesday had not been in contact with the Board. But his fate has been sealed.
Following Mayo’s victory over Dublin, Moran told an interviewer that his friends were now in Mayo, an assertion with which the normally taciturn Derryman would scarcely now agree.