David Kelly: 'Andy Moran will forever be recalled as one of the finest scoring forwards to don the green and red'
Andy Moran delivered half a lifetime to the Mayo jersey and even though he gave them every ounce and fibre of his very being, there will be many who deem him cheated to receive nothing in return.
In fact, he got nearly everything he would have wanted.
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A lifetime of friendships and memories, some good and some bad. A chest full of medals and a breast full of pride. Honours abundant and tributes aplenty.
But if his name will forever be recalled as that of one of the finest scoring forwards to don green and red geansaí, it will also be inextricably linked with that of the great, unrequited love of his county.
Endlessly he chased it, with a vigour which would characterise this most intelligent of forwards, whose selfless running was always delivered with a purpose; an industry that was indivisible from the artistry of point-scoring.
He would be still running next year, were his mind and body capable of doing so. But with two kids now, and a family and a business to run, the effort of living a real life can no longer be consumed by the struggle to live the dream.
Reality has won this particular race.
It is no coincidence that his best form arrived since 2015 when business and family life collided to lift the pressures of the sport he loved.
Now, instead of it being a burden, he suddenly felt free to play the game on his terms.
And yet though he may never have ascended the saintly steps on that September day, he can at least reflect on the fact that he did manage to do so on a spring day, springing the eternal subterfuge of hope.
However, winning this year’s league title against Kerry, and walking the Croke Park hand in hand with little Charlotte and Ollie, at least ensured that, even if the last time was the first, a final would not end in heartache.
For once, Moran and Mayo, a relationship seemingly destined for perennial heartbreak, could share some semblance of joy as they paraded a national title for all their manically joyful, and enduringly loyal, supporters to see.
After ten attempts, finally some blessed deliverance.
Could he really have walked away last winter and foregone all this?
Only one man, perhaps, could have persuaded him to return and, even if Dublin thwarted them as so often before in the All-Ireland series, both men can reflect that their instincts were rewarded.
For Moran, even in the late autumn of sporting life, remained one of his side’s most consummate performers, returning this championship from the ignominy of another Connacht reverse, and potential exclusion to the fringes, to resume his familiar status as its very pulse.
Why, there was no better tribute to his statute in the sport than the proposition that, like Peter Canavan in 2003, he should have started in the semi-final against Dublin, before being withdrawn and then re-introduced.
Ultimately, Dublin’s immensity that day rendered the topic an irrelevance but Mayo supporters still left ruing the fact that their talisman was introduced when the day was done.
Age hadn’t withered him; at 33, he had his best year in 2017; notching a frankly improbable 3-24 from play, compiled in ten matches of another zany qualifying route towards another seemingly inevitable Dublin defeat.
It would see him sweep the individual playing awards; the Dubs would be slighted, as they often were by the sight of him.
They still recall in barbed song the image of Moran, his hands cupped to his ears, inviting the Hill’s disapproval. That it would perennially shower him was, in true GAA style, the highest form of respect.
Of all the near misses though, it may be 2012 which actually hurts the most; the cruciate sustained against Down; the captain of the ship downed when he was arguably at his most serenely confident. He never relied on pace; footwork, positioning, accuracy with the kick were his allies.
As he leaves the stage, it still seems strange that on so many occasions when his county desperately needed him, he was left on the bench.
Mayo’s loss; and now Moran will be their lost leader. One can already assume he will some day return in the guise of a manager.
Moran so typified the colour of the Mayo men and women and children who lit up so many summers that it would almost seem inconceivable that he may never again play some role in the drama.
The twin attributes of passion and intelligence, that combined to make this century’s finest forward players, will serve him well in years to come.
Moran has stopped running the race. For now, at least. But he won’t give up the chase for Sam that easily.