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'Moran has everything. The sky is the limit' - Ó Sé

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David Moran will want to prove he is the best midfielder in the country

David Moran will want to prove he is the best midfielder in the country

SPORTSFILE

David Moran will want to prove he is the best midfielder in the country

Deep into injury-time of the All-Ireland semi-final, when the high-wire drama was crackling like electricity, lighting up a fading night sky as Mayo laid siege to the Kerry goal, David Moran won a crucial possession.

The final moments of such an absorbing evening of drama, tension and bravery had yet to be played out but Moran's late play still encapsulated the fearless defiance of Kerry's resistance throughout the game.

"That was the moment I knew the game was finally over," says Darragh O Sé. "And it was fitting that David Moran was so central to that moment."

It was, because Moran bestrode that match like a giant. By the end of the game, he had clocked 47 possessions. The most possessions of any Mayo player was 19. He won nine kickouts in total. It was a display for the ages.

"It was a phenomenal performance," says Jack O'Shea. "It was almost midfield exhibition stuff."

Moran's heroism on the day was a rich amalgam of conviction and confidence, physical prowess and dominance, all laced together with footballing class and poise.

Cocktail

It was a cocktail which blew up in Mayo's face but Moran's display was also fuelled by a deeper personal meaning. The dog days, the hard road, the pain and hurt of the hard road provided the kerosene that ignited the blaze.

"We knew that display was always in him but the way in which he brought it all together was something else," says Eoin 'Bomber' Liston. "It was almost as if David was proving a point to everyone else that he was that good. To grasp that moment, to see him believing in himself so much, was just fabulous."

Six years earlier, Moran had also been a pivotal figure in an All-Ireland semi-final, albeit in a far less condensed timespan. With just four minutes remaining in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final replay against Cork, Moran was sent on as a substitute, pitched into a Kerry midfield that was being cleaned out in Cork's late resurgence.

In a frantic final quarter, Cork reeled in Kerry's nine-point lead. Donncha O'Connor tied up the match with just two minutes remaining. The tide had turned red. Kerry looked set to be washed away by Cork's surge of momentum but Moran caught the subsequent kickout and his pass to Darran O'Sullivan mobilised Kerry's response. Moran was in support to provide the wall for a one-two with O'Sullivan, who picked out Colm Cooper and his clinical finish fatally punctured the Cork comeback.

In that moment, Moran looked the immediate heir apparent to Darragh Ó Sé, a young gun with a glorious family and Kerry tradition, a player with the world at his feet.

Moran had already announced himself earlier that season when he and his Kerins O'Rahilly's clubmate and great friend Tommy Walsh drove the Kerry U-21 team to an All-Ireland title. Both sons of Kerry legends, Moran and Walsh offered the perfect crystallisation of Kerry's family dynasty and anticipated footballing destiny.

The road just never took Moran to where he expected to go. In 2009, Seamus Scanlon established himself as Ó Sé's midfield partner. Tadhg Kennelly had returned from Aussie Rules and Moran's four Championship appearances were all off the bench. Moran and Walsh went to Australia that winter on Aussie Rules trials. Walsh stayed. Moran came home.

Ó Sé retired at the end of that 2009 season but Micheál Quirke and Anthony Maher traded turns as Scanlon's midfield partner in 2010. In the only game Moran started that season, at wing-forward in the replayed Munster semi-final against Cork, he only lasted 27 minutes.

"Anytime I ever marked David, in training or club games, I always found him very capable," says Ó Sé. "When he arrived, I was hanging on for dear life but there was no way I was going to let this young fella get in and take my place. Looking back now, he was that good that maybe he should have been on the team a few years earlier and maybe I should have cleared off a few years earlier. He was also a victim of circumstance. The team was in transition. And then he got the injuries."

Moran endured a hellish three seasons, not featuring in a Kerry jersey from April 2011 to August 2013.

"He deserves unbelievable credit," says Liston. "He has some steel because it took huge dedication and drive to come back from what he suffered. He did the rehab to the absolute max. That is the type of personality he is."

He suffered his first cruciate knee ligament injury against Monaghan in the 2011 League. Ten months later, he was training with Kerins O'Rahillys when he tore the cruciate a second time. He tried to convince himself that he hadn't. Moran did a lot of rehab weights the following week but when he trained with Kerry that Thursday night, his knee collapsed. Another season over.

When he made his comeback again in 2013, he had a shoulder problem. When Kerry played Laois in a challenge game before the 2013 Championship, he suffered a torn retina, which required laser treatment.

Moran is 25 now, which highlights the agonising timeframe he had to spend in purgatory. Yet the injuries which could have broken Moran appear to have made him.

"David never got the chance to develop but once he got clear of all those injuries, I'm not surprised he has become the player he now is," says O'Shea. "Maybe his stamina was an issue up to now but I think the injuries have helped him in that regard because he was able to build himself right up.

"You will really the best of him in the next few years because he will be fresh and strong."

Jack O'Shea and Darragh Ó Sé were two of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game but Ó Sé feels Moran has the potential to be even better.

"I would say he has more ability than I or Jacko ever had," says Ó Sé. "I hadn't much of a left foot. Jacko would say I didn't have any left foot. This guy has everything. He can kick '45s'. He is a big, physical fella, very strong in the air. He really looks after himself. The sky is the limit for David."

Liston has known Moran since he was born because he was so friendly with his father, Denis 'Ogie' Moran, who won eight All-Ireland medals. His abiding memory of David as a child was "how he used to raid my fridge as a four-year old" but Liston first realised his special talent when he was 14.

"I was training Kerins O'Rahilly's and we would play possession games across the field," says Liston. "And David was able to slot into those games at his ease at that age."

Comparisons are an inevitable by-product with such a storied lineage, especially on high-profile teams.

O'Shea saw that himself first hand when his own son Aidan was on the Kerry panel.

"There is huge pressure and they will always be compared to their fathers," he says. "From a father's point of view, you just have to let them do their own thing. From the son's point of view, they also see what their fathers have achieved and that rubs off on them too. They have that real sense of history and achievement."

Outside of football, Moran is a high achiever and an ambitious guy. Since completing his masters in financial services in UL, he is now a trainee accountant with EY in Cork.

Away from the serious business of work and football, Moran is also an extremely popular guy in the dressing-room.

"He is very funny, some craic, I always enjoy his company," says Ó Sé. "David is a great mimic. He does a brilliant impersonation of the county chairman. He has him off to a tee and the chairman knows that too.

"He is very witty. I met him in the Mills in Ballyvourney after the Munster final. I had this shirt on me which I thought was high fashion. Obviously, it was a bit dated and wasn't what the younger crew would be wearing. David thought it was awful gammy. He left me for dead."

Moran didn't start that game against Cork, which further highlights how much he has been tested, how much he has endured on the long road back.

After finally getting a sustained run of games in the League, he had fluid drained from a knee injury in early June and was replaced after just 23 minutes of the Munster semi-final against Clare two weeks later. The door only reopened again with an injury to Bryan Sheehan in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway.

Six years on from first bursting onto the scene, Moran has finally ignited like a fireball, torching all before him, leaving scorch marks as he goes. Sunday though, is the day that he will really want to explode, to really announce himself.

"Knowing the David Moran I know, he will not be happy with just a few good performances in his last few games," says Ó Sé. "He will want to end the year on a high. He will want to prove that he is the best midfielder in the country."

Sunday finally grants Moran the great stage he has long been waiting for, the arena he has always deserved. Inspired by his family tradition, he will want to create his own rich legacy, to show how good he really is.

And to prove to everyone else that the long and hard road didn't break him, it made him.

Irish Independent