Lord of the skies Barry Moran gives Mayo new dimension in sweeper role
Barry Moran has had few more influential games during his 11-year spell as a Mayo footballer than the recent All-Ireland quarter final against Donegal.
Cast in the role of sweeper as a screen to guard the flight path to Michael Murphy at full-forward, he also doubled up as a presence for kick-outs, especially those aimed in the vicinity of Neil Gallagher.
As selections go there hasn't been a more left-field one than the choice of a 6ft 5in regular midfielder, known more for his fielding ability and combativeness than his mobility, as a sweeper.
Murphy still had a big impact, but the exposure of Mayo's full-back line was limited by the presence of the Castlebar Mitchels man planted in front of them as he carried out his specific instructions to a tee.
Will it be enough to avoid the dreaded 'tap on the shoulder' this week, however? If Mayo deploy a sweeper for Dublin it may demand someone of different dimensions and strengths.
Moran is prepared for that too, the prospect that even after his success in the role against Donegal he may find himself back on a bench he has become all too accustomed to since making his debut in 2005.
Mayo have played 48 Championship games since then; only Andy Moran, Alan Dillon, David Clarke and Keith Higgins are around as long or longer but Moran has started in just 14 and come on as a substitute in another 12.
Injury and the large population of midfielders in the county over that time have been big factors in why he has completely sat out the other 22 games. In fact, his first six starts, between 2007 and 2010, were all in the full-forward line.
"My bread and butter would be midfield and if you don't start there, you're disappointed," he concedes.
"But at the same time, when the lads come up with a different way or different role, you have to go with it and make sure that, what they want you to do, you have a firm understanding of it.
"We played all our four big men (Tom Parsons, Seamus and Aidan O'Shea and himself) against Donegal. They might go with something similar like that, or they might go with something completely different. But from my point of view, all you can do is keep going, try to nail your position down and go from there."
Still, playing sweeper energised as much as it unnerved him.
"I've played in a couple of different positions before, but I'd never played sweeper. So going into a big game like that, it plays a small bit on your mind," he says.
"We had run through it over the last couple of weeks, I'd been comfortable enough from that point of view. But I suppose you never know until you're on the pitch.
"When we got out, there was a small bit of extra nerves that wouldn't be there normally because of the fact you're going into a new position. But you forget about that altogether and it went reasonably well in the end."
His failure to cement himself as a more permanent fixture is frustrating, he accepts. In 2012 he played all five Championship games, including the All-Ireland final against Donegal, and was nominated for an All-Star at midfield.
But by 2013 he was back in reserve again, a knee injury picked up early on in the League setting him back.
"I think it's the running joke among the lads but there was a couple of years there where I just didn't basically play, full stop, because of injuries," he says.
"I won't lie and say that it doesn't (get frustrating). You look at the start of this Championship as well: I didn't make it into the starting 15 for the first games in Connacht - frustrating.
"It's been in one game, out the next. And all you can do is stay positive and keep going.
"The one thing - and it's the same with all the other lads on all the other teams as well - is you're playing with your best mates. So while you're disappointed for yourself that you don't get into midfield, the first thing you have to do is row in behind your mates."
The 29-year-old admits that it was harder to make the decision to come back again after last year's disappointment to Kerry.
"Straight after the All-Ireland and for a month afterwards it is sore and you are thinking 'will I come back?'," he explains. "But once you get back at it you forget about it and you forget about the past.
"You are so consumed with training and you are training even harder, and you are so looking forward to games that you don't have time to look back.
"Pre-season, we had more time off, which meant that we had more time to rest the bodies and from there we came back a small bit fresher.
"I would not say that it is completely different to other years, the hunger is still there."