Moran can finally see light at end of tunnel
Revitalised Kerry midfielder feels for Cooper after enduring his own injury nightmare
More than once over the last 14 months Eamonn Fitzmaurice has spoken of his faith in the Kerry of the future.
More than once he has spoken of the time he has for the players who will shape that future. They haven't always backed up his strong conviction but Sunday provided the most telling evidence yet that bright light is shining through the dark clouds that gathered in the aftermath of Colm Cooper's cruciate rupture.
From the elusive brilliance and opportunism of James O'Donoghue to the foraging and snaffling of Paul Murphy and Fionn Fitzgerald and the radar on the surface-to-air missiles that left Bryan Sheehan's right boot all afternoon, Kerry had much to reflect on with satisfaction.
But maybe the resurgent form of their athletic midfielder David Moran will provide the most warmth from a second half against Tyrone that had the distinct feel of the grieving process over Cooper's absence.
For Moran there is the sense of open road ahead of him at long last.
He's 25 now but a career in green and gold that promised so much on the back of an All-Ireland U-21 win in 2008, when he provided twin pillar leadership in tandem with his Kerins O'Rahilly's clubmate and great friend Tommy Walsh, has never been allowed to blossom.
A double cruciate rupture, subsequent shoulder problem and torn retina conspired to keep him out of a Kerry shirt from April 2011 to the Bank Holiday weekend in August last summer when he started the All-Ireland quarter-final against Cavan.
Thus, Sunday's trip to Newbridge to play Kildare will create a milestone for Moran as the first time he will have started five consecutive competitive games (league and championship) for Kerry, only his 19th league start in all from 25 appearances.
Throw in his dearth of championship appearances (just two starts, plus 10 as a substitute) and it feels like Moran equates to a new player available to Fitzmaurice.
On Sunday he caught kick-outs, linked effectively and sprayed quality passes around, none better than the measured approach for O'Donoghue's second goal.
With Walsh in Australia and Moran laid up for so long, the main thrust – Killian Young apart – from that last All-Ireland underage success for Kerry looked like being lost.
But Moran's anchoring of midfield over the last four games feels like something is being retrieved.
"It's great to come through it," he said. "I'm sure (Cork star) Colm O'Neill is enjoying it even more than me because he's come back from a third (ruptured cruciate). It definitely makes you appreciate the good days even more.
"When you're growing up, you just think that your career is taken away from you in your 20s. And even 'Gooch' at the moment, it's the same for him. It just shows that it can be taken away from you any moment.
"So I'm out there now enjoying it, appreciating it and I know that whatever I'm doing, it's much better than two years ago when I was just doing rehab sessions or I was laid up and in a lot of pain."
Moran knows only too well the path that is facing Cooper over the next few months.
"When you're doing rehab, it's a lonely spot. You go from meeting your friends three or four days a week and having the craic to complete isolation. And that's nothing against the lads or Kerry or the club – it's just the nature of rehab. You have to do the hard work."
The weight of added responsibility rests evenly now on the shoulders of all the Kerry players, and Sunday felt like a line in the sand.
"That's all we can do. It's Gooch – you're not going to replace him. We have to come together as a team and get better. We still believe we're good enough to win an All-Ireland. We have to, otherwise we are wasting our time," said Moran.
"He's a huge loss but there's no point in us going out in training trying to make the next Gooch. We all have to raise that next 5pc and hopefully that will be enough."
He admits that Cooper's loss initiated "almost a grieving process" at first but hasn't been overdone since.
"If we keep bringing it up, it might become an excuse, which we don't want. We're all training too hard for excuses. He'll still play a massive role off the pitch," he said.
"Someone like that, you just hang off every word. You have to draw a line in the sand at some point – we can't write off the year because Colm is injured."
Moran has put his own cruciate troubles behind him and feels the eye damage sustained in a challenge against Laois last May, for which he required laser surgery, helped him cure any mental scarring left by the other injuries.
"It was nearly a blessing in disguise because it made me forget about the other injuries," he reflected.
"I don't think you can afford to be worried about your knees. Look, it's a disaster when it happens. But even if you look at Tommy Walsh... he pulled a hamstring and he still isn't back.
"He didn't break anything, he didn't do his cruciate and he's still out for nearly as long. There's a lot of tough injuries – your cruciate, your Achilles – and you want to avoid them all."
O'Donoghue's hat-trick has embellished his burgeoning reputation and Moran sees the All Star as having the personality to relish the challenge ahead of him.
"He's special, there's no two ways about it. Maybe he put a bit of pressure on himself without Colm being there and without Declan O'Sullivan," he said.
"We need James to be like that every day. We need him to be showing the form he did last year and maybe going up another level, because we will need everybody. It's not just James, it's all the other guys too. But he's a class act."