ANDY MORAN is among the most positive footballers you'll meet on the inter-county circuit. Life-long pessimists beware: his enthusiasm is infectious. Outwardly at least, he never seems to let trauma - literal or metaphorical - cloud his demeanour for long.
A useful disposition, you cynics might quip, for any man appointed to captain the Mayo senior footballers.
So when Andy Moran talks about having "a few dark nights", it really does come as a bolt from the blue. Except, of course, he had every reason to wonder "why me?" ... his county had made it back to an All-Ireland final for the first time in six years and he would be a bystander as potential history beckoned.
The Curse of the Cruciate has visited its latest victim.
Moran's on-field contribution to Mayo's latest Holy Grail quest came to a painful full stop three-quarters of the way through their quarter-final against Down. The Connacht champions were rampant at the time; their roaming All Star talisman was flying. And then, with one twist of his right knee, his season was over.
Six weeks on, Moran has had the big op and now all his thoughts are focused on the big one: Donegal next Sunday. The Ballaghaderreen clubman has embraced the role of non-playing captain, doubtless helped by the fact that he is not one of life's great moaners.
"Well, there's some nights I'd have been in bad form," he clarifies, "and I don't think there's any harm for the boys to see that either. But most of the nights when I'm at training, I love being in amongst the lads.
"For the last two years (under James Horan) we've been preaching that it's a team game, and once you get injured you can't forget your ethics. That's just the way I am, and hopefully it's rubbed off on the lads. Fingers crossed it rubs off on the 23rd."
Still, it just doesn't seem right that Moran won't be wearing No 14 in Croke Park next Sunday. From 2006, he reckons he didn't miss a Mayo game for six seasons and yet, in the last 12 months, he has broken his left leg and wrecked his right knee.
"I knew it straight away," he says, harking back to the moment his cruciate snapped against Down.
"It's a tough station for me, on a personal level ... (Kilkenny's) Michael Rice was there last Sunday, I saw him and I knew he was hurting, but he's probably had a few more opportunities than I've had to play in them. But if we win on Sunday, I'll be the happiest man in the country, no doubt about it.
"We've good friends, the likes of Trevor Mortimer, Trevor Howley, Tom Cunniffe and so on, that were part of the panel and they had to emigrate for different reasons, and I'm still here. If we win on Sunday, I'll be going with the cup wherever it's going and I'll have my All-Ireland medal if we're lucky enough to get over that line."
For the first four weeks he was in "a bit of limbo" while awaiting reconstructive ACL surgery. Ray Moran, noted knee surgeon to the stars, has now performed the operation in Santry and Andy Moran can start channelling his physical energies into the long rehab road.
And mentally? "I think the hurting was before it (the semi-final). I had a few dark nights, where I was feeling sorry for myself, but you've to look at it that there's a lot of people worse off than me," he rationalises.
"The fact that the team still needs you and James still wants you around the place is a great positive for me, and it helped me get over it. Listen, we've an All-Ireland to prepare for, I was at training last (Tuesday) night ... I think I'm one of the lucky ones."
His altered role within the group brings with it a different perspective. "I'm 29 in two months' time," he says. "You'd always look at yourself maybe going into management some day. After the last two weeks, seeing what I've been seeing, I'm not sure that's a route I'd like to take! Some of the stuff that those guys have to deal with ..."
However, watching colleagues fine-tune for the biggest day of their footballing lives has not been a chore.
"They are flying at training, honestly. I'm not saying that as a front. Cian (O'Neill) and Ed Coughlan have them absolutely flying, and they're just mad to get going," Moran enthuses.
"The energy that you'll save between here and the All-Ireland final is the key. Nerves are going to play a part - Donegal haven't been in one in a long time, we haven't been in one for six years, I suppose most of this team haven't played in an All-Ireland final.
"So whoever deals with the nerves, saves most energy this week and trains well -- I think -- will be All-Ireland champions."
He is encouraged by the understated atmosphere surrounding this latest All-Ireland countdown. In 2006, Moran's goalscoring heroics off the bench helped catapult Mayo to that celebrated semi-final comeback against the Dubs.
Hype held the county in a vice-grip for weeks; it barely took 10 minutes for Kerry to transform the mood from elation to utter devastation.
"Going into the final, I agree with you that in 2006 there was giddiness," he recalls. "It's actually quiet around Mayo - I'd say you're surprised by the low level. There was no sheep or bales (of hay) being painted, nothing like that. Not yet anyway!
"It's a great way for it to be. In fairness to the county, the supporters have bought into what we're trying to do. They've been very genuine to us; no one hassling the boys about tickets or going to events, which is great."
But does hype explain the heartbreak of 2006? "We weren't good enough, simple as that," Moran candidly admits.
Ditto against Kerry two years previously: "They didn't have Darragh O Sé or Seamus Moynihan (fit to start the final), and we weren't good enough. If we were good enough we'd have won it. The best team will win the All-Ireland on Sunday, no doubt about it.
"Everyone is on about tactics and stuff like this - the team that plays the best level of football and plays to their game plan the best will win the game."
And if it's Mayo, there won't be a happier man in Croker than the one hobbling up to lift the cup.