Sport Hurling

Saturday 24 March 2018

Loyal to a fault through the good times and bad

Niall Moran has his critics but he has raised his game this season, writes Damian Lawlor

SHORTLY after his side had knocked Clare out of the championship, Limerick midfielder Donal O'Grady singled out Niall Moran for praise.

Moran had just shot five excellent points to help secure the win and O'Grady wanted to make a point. "Niall has had the world and its mother on his back at different times, but he's a talented player. A great player. No one can question that," his team-mate said.

"I'm delighted for him that he's playing at the top of his game right now. He's on fire. I'd love to see his name in the headlines of the papers because he is the most dedicated man in training, minds himself 100 per cent, trains by himself in the alley when we're off. I'm delighted for him, he got some great points to settle us and then again in the second half, got some great points from the sideline. Niall was outstanding."

It seems strange that someone so fanatical about his hurling, who devotes his life to coaching and playing the game, has taken so much grief over the years from his own people.

"You're playing to a tough audience in Limerick," says former All Star Joe Quaid. "For three years after I retired in 2001, I was spoken about as being the best goalkeeper in the county. People were talking about me as if I was a hero. But when I was playing the same people considered me to be the biggest bollocks around. You can't win. Niall's got more than his fair share of that but a lot of others have too."

When Limerick went on strike in 2010 and their senior players refused to play under Justin McCarthy, Moran's name frequently cropped up in the public post-mortems. Along with Stephen Lucey, he was a player representative and McCarthy decided to cut them both at an early juncture. A further 10 were cut within a short space of time. It left a sour taste with those who survived the cull, however, especially with those who saw Moran as a symbol of all that is right in terms of preparation and commitment. One by one those remaining players pulled out until McCarthy was left with a third-choice outfit.

The strike threatened to split the county and Moran was at the receiving end of some sharp comments which he said were hard to take. That summer he decided to travel around Australia, New Zealand and Thailand for three months. He trained three to four times a week during his time in Melbourne. When he came back he went straight into new manager Donal O'Grady's squad.

Limerick had a decent year, winning the 2011 Division 2 title, but the boo-boys were out in force when they played Waterford in the Munster semi-final later that year -- although he scored 0-4 from play from wing-forward, he hit four wides too and got flak for it. When he was replaced by Richie McCarthy after 54 minutes of the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin, a small section of Limerick supporters cheered because he was being taken off. It was shockingly disrespectful to a player who has been the county's most prolific forward from play in the last eight championships with a total of 67 points.

"That was desperate carry-on, an absolute disgrace," Quaid adds. "It just shows you what people know. Here you have a young lad who has given his life serving club and county, a chap who is doing more than most by bringing on teams at Ard Scoil Rís and trying to ensure a bright Limerick future and he has his own supporters jeering him? Terrible stuff.

"The only thing is he has kept going. Niall knows himself there has been inconsistency in his game, he could shoot 12 points or 12 wides some days, but maybe that comes from being the main man in the Ahane attack all the way up. He keeps trying, though, and this year he's definitely brought other fellas into the game a lot more."

Despite being a fall guy when the team wobbles, the 29-year-old has indeed soldiered. And this season the dividends have been there for all to see. Having scored just one championship goal in the past seven seasons, he has already hit four in 2012. Even if they came

against weaker opposition -- three against Laois, one against Antrim -- he showed his class in that win over the Banner.

"Everyone has their critics but in some counties certain fellas are fall guys," he said after they beat Clare. "You never set out to hurl a bad game, but sometimes things just don't run for you. I'd be the first to acknowledge when things go bad and I acknowledge when they go right. I love hurling for Limerick, I love hurling for my club. I give my life to it. Sometimes people don't acknowledge that, but that's them, not me."

When his playing days are finally over, it's clear that a coaching career awaits. Students at Ard Scoil Rís, where he led the senior team to 2010 and 2011 Harty Cup titles, say he is inspirational.

They looked dead set to win the All-Ireland Colleges title in 2010 having led St Kieran's by five points near the end of the game but somehow they ended up losing by three. Disaster again struck against the same opposition a year later when St Kieran's nabbed a 61st-minute goal to win. Moran has known much frustration in his career, losing Fitzgibbon, county, Munster and All-Ireland finals, but he cited that All-Ireland final defeat as the biggest disappointment of his hurling life.

As a top-level player, he has plenty left in the tank. You have to go back to the 1973 All-Ireland final for a Limerick win over Kilkenny in the championship but you can tell from Moran's demeanour that no matter what happens he's a man on a mission.

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