Wednesday 22 November 2017

Handy Andy: Colm Keys on Mayo's evergreen forward

 

Mayo’s Andy Moran gets away from Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh during the All-Ireland MFC semi-final of 2001. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Mayo’s Andy Moran gets away from Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh during the All-Ireland MFC semi-final of 2001. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

On the sideline the message into Andy Moran's ear was simple.

"Get a goal," urged a concerned Mickey Moran, 46 minutes into the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin that Mayo were trailing by seven points, having led by one at the break.

Last year Moran passed the record number of appearances for a Mayo player. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Last year Moran passed the record number of appearances for a Mayo player. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

The game was only heading one direction yet the reply to Mickey Moran's instruction from a player he was sending in as a half-back revealed much.

"I'll get you a goal," promised Andy.

Within five minutes he had come good on it, slipping in behind the cover to bring the match back to two. The rest of a game that legendary commentator Micheál ó Muircheartiagh described as the best he had seen is history.

The power of positive thinking has always come easily to the 33-year-old Moran.

Among the disconsolate Mayo images in the immediate aftermath of last year's All-Ireland final replay defeat, his light bulb face featured prominently, putting a comforting arm on Rob Hennelly one minute, sharing a moment with his daughter Charlotte the next.

That same positivity, that same conviction was evident to John O'Mahony as far back as 2000 when St Nathy's, the local secondary school in Ballaghdereen, the town that is home to both men, won an All-Ireland 'B' colleges final against St Augustine's, Dungarvan.

Fortitude

The then fourth-year student missed a penalty in the first half but had the fortitude to stand up to another in the second half and convert it. St Nathy's, where O'Mahony was teaching, won by two points.

"He had that strength of character to stand up to a second one. He was a fourth-year but he was one of the main leaders on the team," recalls O'Mahony.

"His legacy is secure in many respects because of the way that he is so positive in his reaction, his comments and his actions.

"Any Mayo player who has been involved as long as Andy has to walk the lonely road. He comes bouncing back and he brings others with him on his own team. I've seen it before my own eyes. He's great in a dressing-room because he lifts the spirit and lifts the morale and sees the positives in other players."

That strength of character was evident as the pieces were being picked up last October.

Conventional thinking was that after giving everything that season Moran could not give much more and with the circumstances of family and new business gathering more pace in his life, Mayo football would have to recede into the background.

In a more blunt overview, if Mayo were still looking to him, what direction were Mayo heading?

Who will win the All Ireland football final?

A general view of the pre-match parade ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

But instead, he has doubled down on his commitment to deliver his best ever season, eclipsing 2011 when he picked up an All-Star and 2012 when he was on his way to another one prior to rupturing a cruciate ligament in an All-Ireland quarter-final that put him out of action for almost 10 months.

At that point another of his former Mayo managers James Horan felt he was "the best player in the game".

Now? Moran has reinvented himself as an opportunist on Mayo's inside line, his mix of anticipation, sharp turns and accurate kicking potentially shortlisting him for Footballer of the Year.

In terms of Indian summers for a forward of that age, only Kieran Donaghy can draw a parallel with Moran in recent seasons. His flexibility is reminiscent of James McCartan or Tommy Dowd in the past, an elasticity to hit the ground, gather possession and bounce back up all in the one take.

So far this year he has plundered 3-21 from nine defences, his three goals coming in his last three games.

Spinning

How much of that is attributable to a change of lifestyle that saw him quit a job as a company representative to open his own gym close to MacHale Park in Castlebar, appropriately named 'The Movement' with a simple motto that 'movement changes everything'.

Out of the car and into a gym where he can take spinning classes and iron out the knots and creases on a foam-roller during the day is something that Moran credits himself with prolonging his career to such a high standard.

Horan has witnessed the extent to which Moran will push himself to get an extra inch that might improve his game.

"He has done probably more than most alive to get himself back into shape. He's tried every apparatus, every stretch, every development. He's gone to whatever and wherever he has needed to go to. His life is set up to maximise his ability.

"He's gone to the limit of what you can humanly do to get yourself in peak shape. It's a credit to him the shape he is in.

"Certainly, since I've known him in 2011, he will go to any length, always trying to get better, fitter, stretching, his rolling. Some of the contraptions he'd have in a dressing-room to get better!"

How much that injury set him back though, on top of a leg fracture sustained while on International Rules duty at the end of 2011, is open to question.

"He was very mobile then. Obviously with the injury, he was getting, not chubby but he was putting on a bit of weight. He was struggling as you can when your form and your confidence goes if you're not making the team. Andy always wants to play. If you're not making the team the mental aspect goes as well. You are fighting a losing battle all the time.

"I think he admitted himself that it was the start of 2015 before he felt right, felt a full recovery from the injury."

Horan thinks the evolution of GPS has helped players like him to tailor their training in a much smarter way.

Overdoing

"Every training session is maximised for Andy's profile so he's not getting tired or he's not overdoing drills now like he might have been if he was always trying to do every drill and every run. Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Andy have got a huge amount out of that," ventures Horan.

"The medical team will come out telling Andy, 'Enough today pull it in you're not to do the conditioning runs'.

"They sit down every week and revise with the strength and conditioning coaches and they'll know the load they can put on so they can optimise.

"Tiredness and recovery are a huge part of it so they're not going into that tired cycle, they're gaining all the time as opposed to going really hard, getting tired and having to recover."

Last year he passed the record number of appearances for a Mayo player previously held by James Nallen. Currently, his championship appearance figure stands at 71, 10th in the overall list and the first Connacht player to have crossed the 70 mark.

O'Mahony figures that he's one of the most popular Mayo players of this or any generation.

"Even this year, with the Roscommon match and the controversy over the booing, I was at most of their league matches and all their championship matches and whether he is coming on or coming off, the warmth and connection with supporters is there to see and hear. Years ago that connection was there with Willie Joe Padden too," says O'Mahony.

His 1-5 in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry represents a career peak, his biggest tally in a championship match.

For O'Mahony, his goal that day was reflective of the player he has become.

"It was his sense of anticipation of where he needs to be. His speed of thought was seconds ahead of his opponent. When the ball broke you could almost see him thinking on the field, 'This is where I need to be'. The ball broke into that area and, Bang!"

Whatever tomorrow brings for him he has certainly been true to that motto.

Movement has indeed changed everything.

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