Mo­ran’s life pil­grim­age takes Mayo back to the moun­tain top yet again

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - THE TITLE - By Shane McGrath AT CROKE PARK

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

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