Moran hopes League title can be a game-changer for Mayo
By John Harrington
Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division 1 victory over Kerry was a hugely cathartic moment for Mayo’s veteran forward, Andy Moran.
It was the 10th time the 35-year old had played in a senior National Final for his county but the first time he won one.
Previously his record had stood at nine defeats and one draw, but now he finally has a win on the ledger.
And in the immediate aftermath of the game, even Moran himself was surprised just how emotional it made him feel to finally end his Croke Park Final hoodoo.
“If you asked me this morning what does this mean to me, I'd have said, 'It's just another game',” said Moran.
“But then (Ciaran) Tracey bangs the net, the ref blows it up and the green and red of Mayo goes then and you're thinking, 'Okay, that's a different story'. All it makes you do is want to hear it again.
“It looked like at times that we weren't going to finish out the job but for Ciaran to go up and bang that goal in in the last few minutes was great, it was great for a young player to do it and great for the team.
“It's great because we can come out of the game and we can say that we can work on this and this and this because there's so many things to work on particularly in our first-half performance.
“I don't think you realise what it's like until you actually get over the line and you win one. It's a great feeling.”
It’s a testament to Moran’s mental strength and ability to reset his goals that he was always able to move on relatively quickly from big-match defeats in Croke Park.
Dwelling on failure would have been a reductive exercise, so he had little option but to lock those painful memories in a box and leave them behind him.
But now that he’s finally experienced winning a National Final in Croke Park, he’s able to reflect on those darker days in a different light.
“OK that's a different question now that we've won one,” he said.
“When the final whistle goes there, there's a massive sense of relief. Let's call it, let's be honest about it.
“I'm playing since 2003, I made my debut in 2003 in the league up in Down. Is there a sense of relief there? Yes. Is there a sense of relief for me? Yes, but for the team more so because we've been on the road really since 2011, this group of players, adding young fellahs into it as we go along.
“And to win a national league, I still remember losing one in 07...
“I still remember losing one in '07 to Donegal and that was a hard one to take. I suppose we're here 12 years later winning one so it's great.”
When Mayo lost the 2016 and 2017 All-Ireland Finals against Dublin, Moran still made a point of bringing his daughter Charlotte onto the pitch after the final whistle blew.
He said at the time that having her there with him in those painful moments helped put them into perspective – that there was more to life than winning or losing football matches.
After Sunday’s match Charlotte made it onto the pitch again and this time she had her young brother Ollie with her.
Sharing the moment with his children helped give Moran some perspective once more, but this time it was the undeniable truth that while there might be more to life than football, the latter can certainly enrich the former on days like Sunday.
“Yeah it's great,” said Moran. “Charlotte, we've got a lovely little collage of the two of us on the pitch after losing finals so it's nice to have a cup.
“I suppose when she was born it was a dream to put her into the cup and get the picture of her but she's a bit big for that now. No, no it's great. The two kids there, it was lovely.”
Moran is a busy man off the pitch with his successful gym business in Castlebar and he thought long and hard before he finally made the commitment to play inter-county football again for a 17th season.
So does the experience of winning Sunday’s League Final utterly vindicate that decision?
“Yes it does, 100 per cent it vindicates it,” said Moran. “But, you know, it's a long summer yet.
“I think the big problem I have is that I love playing for Mayo, I love football but life takes over in terms of wife, kids, job, stuff like that.
“It was the first winter I ever gave it thought and I was very grateful to James (Horan) when he rang me to say, 'Listen, we want you back in'.
“I just had to think about it for a couple of weeks, I found it hard to go back training but then it just all started moving again and it's difficult and I need to adjust my training from what I used to do in terms of going five days a week, that doesn't happen any more because work is too busy and life is too busy.
“But the boys are very good to me, they look after me a lot.”
You could easily make the argument that Mayo haven’t managed to win an All-Ireland this decade because of a lack of impact from the bench.
They lost three Finals to Dublin in 2013, 2016 (replay), and 2017 by a single point. In those contests of fine margins, it was Dublin’s superior bench that proved to be a decisive factor.
No Mayo substitute scored in any of those Finals, whereas Dublin’s replacements contributed significantly, scoring a combined total of eight points across the three finals.
One of the main positive’s of this year’s League campaign though is that Mayo have blooded a clutch of young players like Fionn McDonagh, James Carr, Darren Coen, Matthew Ruane, Ciaran Treacy, and Michael Plunkett who should ensure a lack of depth won’t be the problem going forward it has been previously.
“Yeah I think that's without question,” said Moran, who himself might now have to make do with a role as an impact substitute.
“I think if you were picking the team now in the morning without question you'd have Mattie Ruane there, Fionn McDonagh who had a fantastic national league until he got injured, Michael Plunkett.
“You've James Carr today, it's great to see James, James had a lot of problems with his hips over the last couple of years but it's great to see him playing and in that third quarter really turning it on.
“Darren Coen excellent last week against Drew Wylie. It's unreal, the competition is huge. But I said it before, it's not just one year.
“These guys have been in for three or four years. Mattie's been in since '16 when he won a 21, he just need to put on that bit of bulk to get him strong enough to play around the middle of the field.
“This year it's really came and I suppose with the re-introduction of James (Horan) and the way he likes to play football, it really suits Mattie.”
So, how is the Championship landscape looking now in light of Mayo’s League Final win on Sunday?
Does Dublin’s failure to reach the League Final for the first time since 2012 suggest their drive for five All-Irelands in a row may not be as straightforward as many might have suspected at the start of the season?
Have the chasing pack made up enough ground to finally pull them from their perch?
“Ah, Dublin are ahead of everyone else until they're beaten,” said Moran. “The good thing was Tyrone went and beat them in Croke Park, it was a big result.
“If they went and won the National League again, what would that have been, five-in-a-row National Leagues and then going for five-in-a-row championships?
“But it's great to see Mayo and Kerry in the final, Galway competing, Tyrone competing with Dublin, that's brilliant.
“That's just good for the game and hopefully now over the next couple of years, it can push on and be really more competitive.”