Mayo's evergreen Andy Moran: ‘Older I get, the better I should be’
Mayo star insists there's more in tank despite final woe
If Andy Moran needed a reason as to why, at almost 34 years of age, he continues to give so much of himself to playing football, he got it during a protracted spell in the first half of last week's All-Ireland football final.
Rocked by that early Con O'Callaghan goal, Mayo bounced back to take a strong initiative which, by Jim Gavin's admission when he addressed his old Round Towers club colleagues in Clondalkin on Saturday night, had Dublin "on the ropes".
Ultimately, Mayo fell short but Moran (below) got something from the momentum that informed him why he had so readily committed to 2018 once more, despite the latest agonising setback.
"You're in an All-Ireland final, the team is clicking, it's moving in the right direction," he recalled. "If you're a footballer and you want a feeling as to why you play football, that is the reason why. That momentum we got in that period was huge.
"At that time the team was full of energy, we were moving well, it's a high-octane game, playing against Dublin. Two fit teams and it's where you want to be."
For Moran, that last Dublin free before half-time when Paddy Andrews and Ciarán Kilkenny collided and the Mayo players got around Kilkenny only to concede, was a turning point against his team. "I thought the last free, if we get a turnover and get up the pitch to go three points up, instead of being one point up, it's a huge decision. You can't turn it back."
Moran said it was the "right decision" to replace him in the second half after he sustained a hamstring injury setting up the Jason Doherty goal chance.
"I'd never hurt my hamstring before so I didn't realise what I'd done."
So much happened in that dramatic second half, from Donal Vaughan's sending-off to Lee Keegan's tossing his GPS tracker at Dean Rock just as Rock was hitting his free to the simultaneous blocking and dragging down of three Mayo players as David Clarke prepared to take his last kick-out.
In the headquarters of new All-Star sponsors PwC in Spencer Dock, where he received his award as the GAA/GPA 'Player of the Month' for August, Moran was adamant that Vaughan won't take long to bounce back from his red card.
"Me and Donie both own businesses in Castlebar, we spend a lot of time together, he's a really strong character. Donie will be fine," Moran promised.
As for Keegan, naturally the Ballaghdereen clubman was circumspect.
"Lot of things go on in that period of time. You are over 70 minutes in an All-Ireland final. It's all go. A lot of issues going on. Stuff happens, If you have an opinion on the GPS, that's fine. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion in that situation. It's not really a big deal for me. Dean kicks the free. Until we find the GPS!"
As to whether Mayo would have resorted to such collective cynicism as Dublin if they were a point ahead and facing an opposition kick-out in the same manner, Moran didn't commit.
"It's hard to know. We'd get criticised if we did and criticised if we didn't. I think the Dubs are great champions, three-in-a-row. Would I look too much into it? If it's (dealt with) within the rules and they did it, that's it, it wouldn't really faze me either way.
"Would we have done the same thing? I would be hoping we would be clinical enough to close out the game. Would we have done the same thing, I'm not sure. But we'd be hoping we would be clinical enough to close it out before we were in that position," he reiterated.
Moran has had a great season, earning a Footballer of the Year nomination, after scoring 3-24. But while being shortlisted among the four best footballers in 2017 is a welcome consolation, Moran admitted taking more from an All-Star nomination in 2016. "It probably meant more to me than anything because I suppose people are saying now, 'He's come back.' But last year was my comeback really. I got hurt (back) when I was captain in 2014, was a sub on and off the team, 2015, impact sub. It was only midway through the championship in 2016 that I got it (his place). So the solace to me, which is probably weird to some, is the All-Star nomination last year because it got me back to the level where I thought I could play."
Asked the highlight of a rollercoaster 2017 championship season and Moran reflects back to their All-Ireland quarter-final replay against Roscommon as the perfect day. As a Ballaghdereen man, the booing he attracted in the drawn game had resonated but that wasn't why the team's response second time around pleased him so much. "Not just because of my own situation, but I think that was when we really just let ourselves play."
Was he hurt by the reception he was greeted with on every touch the first day? "If I'm being honest, not really, because I didn't hear it. I heard it coming off the pitch but I didn't hear it during the game. I know the craic, a lot of it was just a bit of jibbing so I wouldn't take any heed of it. I'm a long time at it now, so not really. And there was only a week in between. If we had three weeks the media started writing about it then maybe but no, it didn't really.
"Sure I get my hair cut off Seanie McDermott, it's grand," he laughed.
And the memories of the Mayo support will also stand out. "I just get fascinated by the Mayo supporters and the resilience of the group. The supporters are unique now, and you have to admit that. We go to Limerick and we go to Clare and there are huge crowds there even after 'underperformance' against Derry and Galway. That gives the players great energy and that kind of resilience to move forward."
Moran accepted that the 2017 final was their best performance of the seven he has now played in, especially from an attacking point of view. And he believes the hunger to succeed will never diminish until they fulfil their goal. Age, he insists, won't be a barrier for him.
"The way I've always looked at football, the older I get the better I should be getting because you should be getting smarter. Like, I'm not fast. I've never really been blessed by height or speed. Genetics wouldn't be my thing.
"But you have to kind of use your head and the older I'm getting the smarter I should be getting. And I think other footballers should be doing it - you see Stephen Cluxton and Tomás ó Sé and these guys, they all went to that age as well. Johnny Doyle the same. These guys all went to that, so I can't see any reason why I can't as well."