Andy Moran gives his All-Ireland Final verdict
By John Harrington
Mayo GAA legend, Andy Moran, sat down with the GAA online media today to cast his eye over Saturday’s eagerly anticipated All-Ireland SFC Final between his native Mayo and Tyrone.
Over the course of a lengthy interview, he outlined why he thinks Mayo will win, what the key battles will be, why James Horan is such a good manager, and why Aidan O’Shea is primed for a big All-Ireland Final.
Q: Andy, who will win this All-Ireland Final and why?
Andy Moran: If you say with any certainty who's going to win this final, I think you're half bluffing. But my gut is saying Mayo. I think the reason is if you go through the teams I think it's so even all through the teams, and I think the one place we hold an advantage is in the middle of the field. Mainly because Tyrone have gone with two big guys and I wouldn't be surprised if one of them was changed.
We play with maybe two half-forwards in along there and I think we can get scores out of there. I think that gives us huge opportunity. I think for some reason, and I know I'm turning into a complete Mayo fan now, but I do believe it's our time and I think the opportunity for both teams here is absolutely massive in terms of Mayo/Tyrone in an All-Ireland Final without playing the might of a Dublin six-in-a-row team or without facing Kerry in a Final.
I just feel Mayo are further along the tracks than Tyrone are. Year Three of James Horan gives them a huge advantage. The four weeks break and getting Oisin Mullin back has given us a huge advantage. So I think they're the reasons why Mayo will win it.
Q: Does that edge in pure pace Mayo possess in midfield mean they have the ability to creatre goal chances by attacking the central channel?
AM: No, I think there's going to be very few goal-scoring opportunities in this one. I can see a low-scoring game. 1-13 or 1-12 maybe winning the game.
I think Tyrone will keep that central channel, like they did against Kerry, fairly tight. I just think in around the fringes, when you play with Conor Loftus and Diarmuid O'Connor there, I do think it gives you an advantage when you're playing against two natural midfielders where you can kind of fit between that midfield and that half-forward role and you can exploit a tiny bit of space there which Tyrone might leave. I think it does give us a chance.
Q: What other match-ups will have a big bearing on the game?
AM: Are you going to tell me the match-ups? I've gone through these a thousand times and I can't...I'll give you two. I think the goalkeeping competition the next day is absolutely imperative to who wins this game. Because traditionally you think about catching and commanding your square and shot-stopping. But these two keepers off the tee are absolutely essential to what the team do on both sides of the field.
We saw in the semi-final that Morgan got two (points) and Robbie got three in the semi-finals in relatively low scoring games in normal time. They were just massively important points in all aspects. I think that's going to be a real tight tussle and whoever comes out on top, that could be the difference in the game.
And then I think McCurry on Padraig O'Hora is going to be a key battle. Padraig O'Hora has been sensational for us this year. But the confidence McCurry is going to get from Tom O'Sullivan really getting at him in the first-half against Kerry and the confidence Logan and Dooher showed in him to not even think about taking him off when he's getting well beat in the first half. Gets a black card and not even thinking about taking him off. And in normal point he kicks that last score to nearly win them the game before Clifford wins the free. So the confidence I know as an inside forward that would give you that the management have your back. I'm sure Darren McCurry would have been taken off after 40 minutes last year under Mickey Harte. This year he gets huge confidence. I think that's going to be an intriguing battle.
Q: Some of Niall Morgan’s kick-outs went astray in the semi-final. Will Mayo believe they can really target his kick-outs?
AM: Yeah, I think around three quarters of his kickouts went to their target, so 75%. He kicked it quite long at times to collisions. I don't think he went as astray as many people believe. I think a lot of them long kickouts were a tactic to upset what Kerry were trying to do as well.
I think Morgan and Robbie Hennelly have been brilliant. The two of them have a massive tussle ahead of them. The two of them have vibrant personalities. So lets expect the unexpected with these two guys on Saturday. I think that's nearly as exciting as any of the outfield battles, the battle between those two guys. Morgan is top class, he's a top class keeper. Yes, he'd one or two (kickouts) that were dodgy. But then he had the one where he kicked it to McGeary, where McGeary wins it and then kicks it to Cathal McShane. Them kickouts, they go risk over reward there. Expect to see him kicking it long again on Saturday. I think he'll try and bypass the midfielder with a lot of his kickouts.
Q: Aidan O’Shea had a poor game by his standards in the All-Ireland semi-final. Knowing him as you do, will he be extra motivated to have a big All-Ireland Final?
AM: I think Aidan had a very similar thing to myself in 2013 when I was captain of the team and got taken off around the same time when I got roasted against Tyrone (in the All-Ireland semi-final). There was big speculation of was I going to start in the Final or what was going to happen in the Final.
You have no real choice. If that doesn't take the shackles off, nothing will. People have wrote you off anyway so it just gives you a tiny bit of freedom to go and play. I think it's going to be of huge benefit to Aidan going into the Final. I would expect him to have a huge game. He usually plays well against the Donegals and Tyrones of this world. He's got an opportunity there because Tyrone aren't going to attack with everyone, they're going to leave Frank Burns or someone there so he has the opportunity to sit in the middle.
And the physicality of the game is going to suit him. It's going to be a very different game to what Dublin or Kerry bring. I think for Mayo to play well then Aidan O'Shea needs to have a big impact on the game and I believe he will and I think the semi-final is going to help him. What people tend to forget about Aidan in the semi-final, he had three opportunities to score. If he scores them three opportunities, the narrative is very different. And people forget that he was in a boot before the game, he was in a boot a couple of days after the game. So he was injured going into the game as well. I don't think it's as big a deal, the Aidan O'Shea issue within the camp, as it is outside the camp. I would expect him to have a really big game and I expect being taken off in the semi-final is going to free him up a tiny bit as well.
Q: Do you expect Cathal McShane to start for Tyrone or will they continue to use him as an impact substitute?
AM: No, I think Cathal McShane will stay on the bench. He had too big of an impact the last day when he came on. But I do expect Darragh Canavan to start, and I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the bigger midfielders stepping away. So I wouldn't be surprised by that at all if they do shake it up a tiny bit. I'd be actually a bit surprised if they left it the same.
Against Donegal and against Kerry, they had very similar teams and that seems to be the starting 15. But I think if Canavan has proved his fitness over the last two weeks, I do expect Canavan to start because I think he would trouble most defensive lines. The bench, we won't deny this, Tyrone will have a stronger bench. So I think they'll be leaving the bench, pretty much as it was, barring maybe the exception of Canavan.
Q: Given Tyrone have a stronger bench, do Mayo need to be a few points up going into the final quarter?
AM: Ah you'd expect that. You'd expect that's what we'd be saying. Horan now will make a plan for McShane, he'll make a plan for Mark Bradley, he'll make a plan for Canavan, Tiernan McCann, and what you will see is fellas being brought on at the same time to counteract them guys. I suspect that's what you'll see.
Lads, this is such an unusual game. I think the collisions in this game are going to be huge. Black cards, injuries, sending offs could all play a part in this game. At the minute, the weather is supposed to be good. But if that changes and it's a wet ball, this game around the middle section is going to be carnage.
Q: Mayo are slight favourites with the bookies to win the match. Does that add any pressure?
AM: I honestly do feel, and I think all the players are the same, of course as a player you're going in there and you're expecting to win the game. That's what you always do. Every final I was a part of, I always expected to win the game. But I would say, this is the most 50:50 game of football I think I've ever witnessed. Maybe I'm a bit too close to it because of my Mayo connections. But it's so 50:50. You can't call a winner in it. My gut is telling me Mayo. I think players are really smart people too. They know that there's going to be mistakes in this game.
The beauty of not having Dublin in the game, is that when you go and play Dublin, if you don't play at 100%, you're getting beat by 10 points. In this game, both teams, keepers are going to make mistakes, there are going to be missed frees, there's going to be turnovers, there's going to be collisions, there might be mistimed tackles, there will mistakes in this game. When you're not playing a defending champion, that happens because there's going to be so much nervous tension in this game, adrenalin that that creates, you being out of your zone a tiny bit. So yeah, I think the favourites tag is nice, it's lovely to have the favourites tag going into a game. But does it mean anything? I don't think so. And I wouldn't say the players are even aware of that to be honest.
Q: Is this year a sign of things to come? Will we see a more open championship or do you expect Dublin and Kerry to bounce back?
AM: I think what good coaching and tactics and sticking to a gameplan shows, like Tyrone against Kerry, it can be done. My personal belief would be that David Clifford will win All-Irelands. So, Kerry are going to win a few. Do I think the fragments of that Dublin team will win another All-Ireland or two? I most certainly do. I think they'll bounce back. Will they have the dominance? No, they won't, you can't have that many players leave. But if you get Jack McCaffrey back into that team, Paul Mannion back into that team, all of a sudden, you've a serious outfit again. So, them two teams will come back.
What the beauty of this is that Mayo and Tyrone have shown that there is a way for other teams to come. Offaly in the 20s, Meath in the 17s, all of a sudden now, us as observers can see an exciting future for our game of Gaelic football and it's lovely to see. But I do expect that both Kerry and Dublin will bounce back from serious defeats. That's why it makes it more important that both Mayo and Tyrone to go and seize the opportunity when they get it.
Q: James Horan has now rejuvenated Mayo in two different spells as manager. What are his strengths as a manager?
AM: This spell was quite different. It didn't go our way in 2018 but we probably had our best performance of all-time in the 2017 final. So, he was taking a team that was probably going to move into a transition but still with Lee Keegan, Keith Higgins and David Clarke all still there. Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor, still probably at the peak of their powers, those guys. So, I think this time is a bit different.
Going back to when he took over in the winter of 2010, moving into the 2011 season, on the podcast I do with Paddy Andrews, it was read out to me this week that, his quote when he took over was "we needed to take the bullshit out of Mayo football."
And I think you couldn't write it any better than that. He's taken the bullshit out of Mayo football. If you want to be there, you'll do the work, we'll play to a system and we'll see where it takes us. He's a very straight-shooter. He likes working with young men, who can run, who can play to the demands of Croke Park. And he fills them with confidence. That's his biggest strength. And when Mayo enter the pitch on Saturday evening, they'll have no doubt they can win that game. He'll have told them all they can win that game and it's up to them to go out and do it. They'll feel like they're on top of the world. That's his biggest strength. Just his ability to go into a dressing room and make everything else believe.
Q: Would you describe him as authoritarian in his management style?
AM: Authoritarian is probably strong. Could you describe a leadership style as commanding? Commanding and demanding are the two words I would use. He demands a lot of high standards and he commands the respect of the dressing room.
Even when he came into us in 2010, he might have been the only forward in Mayo with two All-Stars at the time. Ye boys had a good habit at the time of writing Mayo off as having no forwards. So, he commanded respect straight away. He won the county title with Ballintubber, which was a big achievement at the time in 2010. So he had that respect and then he just demanded really, really high standards.
We weren't great in 2011. We beat Cork, which was a real standout performance. But we nearly got beat by London after getting beat by Sligo and Longford the year before. And he demanded really high standards from himself and his coaching staff. And when you do that, it kind of filters down amongst the players.
Q: Tommy Conroy really came of age as an inter-county forward in the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin. Have you been impressed with how the Mayo forward line has coped without Cillian O’Connor?
AM: My biggest concern since he went down against Clare is we're going to miss him at some stage. What gives me confidence going into the game, I think that stage was Dublin. At 63 minutes, I think we had seven, eight points on the board. I was praying, I was just like, 'Where's my buddy Cillian?'
But yeah Tommy and I mentioned Darren McCurry, the confidence Darren McCurry will get from the boys not swiping him after 40, 45 minutes was huge. The confidence Tommy Conroy will get with James Horan positionally moving him out the field a tiny bit and saying 'Right Tommy, you still have a big play to play here.'
He scores his first point late, late in the game, but he scores three of the best points any forward has ever scored for Mayo in Croke Park. In another game under another manager, he could have been sitting on the sideline.
The confidence he's going to get from that is huge. The key for me in that forward line is Ryan O'Donoghue. He makes everything tick. Outside Mattie Ruane, he's been our best player by a country mile this year for Mayo. He's been outstanding. Them two guys, their future is mapped out in front of them, but if they win on Saturday, what a career they could end up having.
Q: Kevin McLoughlin doesn’t tend to get as much praise as other long-serving players like Lee Keegan or Aidan O’Shea. Having played with him, just how good is he?
It's funny, I was lucky enough to go to the Westmeath game in the National Football League up in Cusack Park. We were struggling up top, we were struggling to get the ball into the forwards. Jack Cooney and the guys had a really good system put in place, in terms of having 10, 11 behind the ball at all times. Kevin came on and he just changed the game. He starts winning breaks, he starts linking the play, he starts kicking the ball into Cillian O'Connor. All of a sudden Tommy Conroy, Ryan O'Donoghue is on the ball. It all stemmed from him having come on to the field. Against Galway we're struggling, six points in it in the first half. Johnny Heaney is playing hell against us from wing back, Kevin comes on, wins the first break, outside the left foot in to Aidan O'Shea, to Mattie Ruane and we get the penalty out of it.
And he just links the play. As an inside forward, he's a dream to play with. His skill level is so high, he can kick the ball inside, outside. He can punt it, he can kick it right and left. Yes of course he gets the scores, a score here and there, but it's his link play and his break winning and his work-rate, that really stands out. He was a dream to play with for a player like me. I'm sure the young fellas are seeing the benefits of having him on the field as well.
Q: How important was it for Mayo to have a high-quality player like Robbie Hennelly to step in as goal-keeper when David Clarke retired?
AM: Robbie and David have been fighting for that position, and Kenneth O'Malley before them, they've been fighting for ten years now. Robbie got it at times, David had it at times. But David kind of established himself in the latter years of his career and Robbie maybe had three or four years where he was sitting.
But he waited patiently. They became really good friends but really big rivals at the same time. They pushed each other, they'd arguments, they fell out, if you were out on a night out, they'd have been the two boys that'd be together, they were really close. They just learned off one another. Robbie was like a sponge around David, just learning. Clarky was the same with Robbie.
You can just see now that, and I've often said it, keepers get better as they get older. We've all said that, haven't we? Did Cluxton win his first All-Ireland, around the same age as Robbie Hennelly, 30, 31 years of age? Becomes the greatest keeper and most successful captain of all time. David Clarke wins his two All-Stars later in his career. Niall Morgan is getting on a tiny bit now and is getting better every year he's going along. Rory Beggan the same. I think in a keeper's position, you mature into it, you learn and you come through. Having him there when David stepped away was huge and his performances for Mayo this year have been exceptional. I go back to the 2019 National League final, we're struggling and Robbie Hennelly has an outrageous game and we're just hoping he's the same game on Saturday.
Q: You were captured on TV showing your emotions when Mayo beat Dublin in the semi-final, will you trying to keep them in check this time around?
AM: Yeah I got caught badly! There's no point in denying that. It was a great moment. It was the first championship game that myself and my wife went to together. I was taking stats up to about the 55th minute, but the programme got thrown away at about 55 minutes. I moved from player to fan in that moment. Seeing Robbie kicking that last score, if that didn't bring any emotion out of me, I don't think anything would have.
* Ireland Active ambassador, Andy Moran, today launched Ireland Active’s sixth annual National Fitness Day at the Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena.
National Fitness Day will take place this year on Thursday September 23rd with thousands across the country getting involved in a range of free healthy and fun activities in leisure centres and gyms. Schools, workplaces and exercise professionals are also set to take part, with participating fitness facilities across Ireland providing free activities on National Fitness Day to encourage people to be active. On the day, virtual classes will be offered to workplaces nationwide, while schools will be participating in the “Take on the Teacher Challenge”.
Information on the activities and participating facilities nationwide can be found on https://nationalfitnessday.ie/.