Wednesday 28 September 2016

Dillon and Moran the great Mayo survivors

Published 14/09/2016 | 02:30

Mayo's Alan Dillon. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Mayo's Alan Dillon. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

James Horan breaks out in a smile when he's asked about the incredible longevity of Mayo veterans Alan Dillon and Andy Moran.

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Horan's not surprised they are still there with Mayo because he's seen their resilience first-hand, but perhaps others are. Both men have picked up career-threatening injuries but somehow they have done enough to survive in one of the most consistently competitive panels around.

There are any number of statistics that could be trotted out to underline the service they have given to their county ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland final clash with Dublin.

Both men hold Mayo records, along with Dermot Flanagan and Liam McHale, having won eight Connacht titles in a decorated career. And both men are in their 14th season with the county, having made their debuts in 2003.

Earlier this year, Moran surpassed James Nallen as Mayo's record appearance holder while Sunday will be Dillon's fifth final (Moran missed 2012 through injury). If he makes an appearance, he'll be the first non-Kerryman to play in five finals since Dublin goalkeeper John O'Leary in 1994.

Of course there are league finals and All-Stars thrown into the mix too but after the 2012 decider, you'd have gotten long odds on the pair being involved in another final four years later.

They've had great days. Ten years have passed since the famous 2006 All-Ireland semi-final and the 'Mill at the Hill'. Dillon (right) kicked four points that day while Moran came off the bench to score a crucial goal as Mayo came back from the dead.

But life as a Mayo footballer for so long will leave you with scars. For each of the last four seasons they have been beaten by the eventual All-Ireland champions. Sunday will be the fifth time they will rock up to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day and all of them have ended in tears.

Still, they always fronted up. For years, Dillon would take a call from the media. Win or lose, he'd front up.

They'll get another chance to get over the line on Sunday. Moran will likely start as he looked sharp in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Tipperary where he looked like, as Horan put it, "a new player".

If he features, Dillon's role is unlikely to extend beyond an appearance off the bench but Horan believes their ability to remain part of the set-up as they roll well into their 30s comes on the back of a willingness to make football top of their list of priorities.

"They love football, they love what they do," Horan said.

"Take Alan Dillon, to be at the standard he's at, have you any idea what that takes, and the impact on your life? What you eat, when you sleep, what you do. All that kind of stuff to be in that condition.

"The same with the Dublin players. The pick that they have and the amount of players, that's rubbish.

"The commitment they have to their team, to the cause, is huge as well. To take Alan Dillon, to be at the level he's at is phenomenal."

Moran recently pointed to a change in job that saw him move from spending a lot of time in a car to opening his own gym as a significant move for him in terms of his football.

"It's huge, those thing are huge," Horan agreed. "Small things, how far you have to travel and before and after training and that kind of stuff. That's huge, particularly the older you get."

The pair might be expected to move on regardless of the result on Sunday. Win or lose, Horan's not sure if walking away from Mayo would be so easy for the duo.

"You'll have to shoot those boys [to get them away from the panel]," he smiled.

Irish Independent

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