Moran’s life pilgrimage takes Mayo back to the mountain top yet again
THIS thing will not die. This dream, this obsession, this way of life; whatever name you put on it, it will not fade away.
Time is against the group; that is undoubtedly true. This is Mayo’s sixth season as a premier inter-county force, since James Horan reinvigorated them.
They have now reached their fourth final in that time, and on three previous visits to Croke Park on September’s third Sunday, they have not been good enough.
No matter. The hope, the will, whatever you call it, lies latent for the winter and reemerges in the summer.
Yesterday, the force that this remarkable group generates melted Kerry. The Munster champions could not withstand the ferocity of Mayo’s tackling, the energy with which they went about bursting their way to victory.
They know what these days feel like. All-Ireland semifinals have brought Mayo throbbing joy going back over a decade, from the day they took the Hill in 2006, to beating Dublin again in 2012 and easing by Tipperary a year ago.
And they know that those memories are feeble consolation as winter falls and regrets thicken the long, dark nights.
Andy Moran knows how it goes. He was 22 years of age when Mickey Moran sprung him as a substitute against Dublin in 2006. Mayo were listing badly when Moran called for the Ballaghaderreen man.
If he is energetic now, at 33, in those days Moran was positively Tiggerish, and he promised the manager he would score a goal as he ran on. And he did, rolling a shot in past Stephen Cluxton that signalled the start of Mayo’s comeback.
He was part of a team that were wildly erratic back then, a group incapable of keeping enough distance between triumph and disaster.
All that changed under Horan, and Moran was an obvious leader as a new Mayo were assembled.
When they tripped before the mountain-top in 2012, ’13 and again last year, it looked like his pilgrimage was over.
But this season, Moran is one of the best forwards in Ireland. He is the form footballer in the Championship over the past two months, and a certain All Star. He scored 1-5 from play last Sunday when running the Kerry full-back line threadbare, and he took them for 1-1 here.
As the country debated the positioning of Aidan O’Shea in recent days with a level of engagement once reserved for the positioning of missiles in Cuba, Moran’s contribution in the tied match was one of the significances inevitably overlooked.
He was marvellous again here; never better than when taking an arrowed pass from Conor Loftus out in front, leaving Shane Enright sprawled behind him.
A one-two with Cillian O’Connor was then slid to the net, Moran skidding the ball in past Brian Kelly and thereby putting the match beyond Kerry.
In the understandable excitement caused by the decision to play O’Shea as Mayo’s full-back, the consequences for his colleagues in the forward line remain unexplored.
It has made a difference. Mayo are playing fast, diagonal balls in to Moran and Cillian O’Connor, with Jason Doherty emerging as an influential link player and, yesterday, a scorer in his own right.
He kicked a free and a 45 after O’Connor was shown a black card, and has been brilliant. Doherty is the type of footballer Mayo need to become consistently effective in the biggest tests.
They will need O’Shea too, though, and he is likely to be in more familiar surrounds on the day of the final. Mayo’s new configuration would suggest a role for him in the full-forward line with Moran and O’Connor withdrawn, but his work as a full-back looks done for this season.
There are enough tiresome weeks in a GAA year, consumed by disciplinary wrangling or attentiongrabbing pundits, that make events like O’Shea’s migration back the pitch so exciting.
It stirred people, moved them to argument and debate, and there was a point around the middle of last week when it was hip to argue he hadn’t actually been given the runaround by Kieran Donaghy in the first game. He had, but not here. O’Shea moved between marking and attacking in the first half, but for the second he took permanent station beside Kerry’s control tower. Donaghy was having a rough day, though.
Mayo minded him with much more aggression than before, and as O’Shea broke ball away from him, Brendan Harrison and Colm Boyle fell on the breaks like starved men on spilled food.
When it ended, after Donaghy and O’Shea had tangled and a punch from the veteran saw his day conclude too soon, the Mayoman pumped his fist to an adoring Hogan Stand.
And on it goes. Their story has ended the same, bruising way again and again.
But they insist on trying one more time nonetheless.
MARVELLOUS: Andy Moran tormented Kerry’s defence yesterday