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Mayo have the hunger to end famine – Moran

GAME one. It's the only terminology you'll likely have heard from Mayo about their Connacht SFC opener with Galway in Salthill on Sunday.

No talk of provincial three-in-a-rows and ne'er a mention of a local derby.

Last year, in the build up to their All-Ireland semi-final against then champions Dublin, James Horan dodged talk of the prize – a final appearance – and instead merely referred to the match as "game four", just as he had in the quarter-final (game three), Connacht Final (game two) and so on.

"It's as basic as it comes," explains Andy Moran of the thinking, back amongst the Mayo subs on Sunday for the first time since rupturing his cruciate ligament against Down in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final.

"If you want to win an All-Ireland you have to win six, seven or eight games and each game is an individual goal. Since last October when the draw was made we've been looking at May 19."

Whither Mayo, though?

The optimists in the county (yes, they exist) see incremental progress in both of James Horan's years in charge (an All-Ireland semi-final in 2011, a final last year) and draw an assuming extension of that line to Sam Maguire, à la Donegal and Dublin before them.


Those of a less sunny disposition – and, in truth, most neutral observers – hold strongly the belief that it will take all of Mayo's talent, all of Horan's sideline acumen and, just to be sure, a fair portion of luck for the Connacht overlords just to get back to last year's levels ... and even then they weren't quite good enough.

"Every player can improve," says Moran of the process of furthering the Mayo cause in 2013. "If every player can up their level even one per cent, then you've found a 15 per cent improvement as a team. That's the fine-tuning you do.

"In terms of tactics and things like that, I leave it to James Horan. But in terms of players, the likes of Kevin McLoughlin, Michael Conroy, Cathal Carolan, these guys have improved significantly over the league and can hopefully have a good championship."

Like Moran, Horan's focus is admirable and, equally, important in a county so besotted with the prize that has eluded them so mercilessly – and where each new generation is branded with the sins of their forebears.

"I think the difference in this team compared to the other teams I was involved in back in 2004 and 2006 is that those teams were quite experienced teams," says Moran, attempting to draw some clear demarcation between the past and the present. "You wouldn't call them old, but there were guys coming to the end of their careers.

"This team is a young team. I'm the fourth oldest on the panel and I'm only 29. So it's an unusual one, and these guys were just mad to go again."

So while everyone else sees Mayo and thinks of the lost finals and the yearning ache in the county for September success, Moran just sees football logic, especially when asked whether this group can, in this very year, end the most celebrated All-Ireland famine in football.

"Do I think we can win it? Well, why not?" he muses.

"We've plenty in the tank but there's lots of other good teams out there as well. I can't see why not, though. That's the aim of every team starting the Championship.

"You see the likes of Dublin and the development that they're doing. Cork aren't gone away and Kerry aren't gone away. Donegal will be there again. It's going to be a tough championship to win but do we have as good a chance as anyone? Of course we do.

"Why not? If you look at our path and Donegal's, they're very similar. Bad championships in 2010, decent championships in 2011 and the two of us were in the All-Ireland Final in 2012, so why not?"