By Anthony Hennigan
It’s exactly one month since Andy Moran was talking about how much of a privilege it is to play football for Mayo. He was in the throes of a summer that saw him play a significant role in the Green and Red’s advance to the All-Ireland SFC semi-final. However, that interview, as featured in the Western People on July 29, turned out to be Moran’s last as a Mayo footballer, for that semi-final clash with Dublin – Moran’s 183rd league and championship appearance (a record for a Mayo footballer) – transpired as the Ballaghaderreen man’s last. The 2017 GAA Footballer of the Year announced on Monday that he was calling time on a senior inter-county career which stretched back to 2003.
It’s fair to say his decision to retire has caught a few people by surprise, despite Moran turning 36-years-old next November. Their surprise is understandable given the positivity exuded by the player as recently as that July interview.
“If your body is able to do it and your mind-set is able to do it, and your lifestyle allows you to do it, I can’t just see why you wouldn’t want to keep playing at the level that you’re fit to play at for as long as you can,” the two-time All Star remarked.
“Even to this day, you wake up in the morning and it’s great to have something like that in front of you. It’s just given me a lot of purpose within my own little small world.
“We’re the fifteen to thirty lucky ones who get to put on the jersey and have the chance to represent a county that loves Gaelic football and the team. It’s one of the greatest honours you could ever give to a person.”
So what changed? Has Moran reconciled that his body and mind are no longer able for the demands of the inter-county game? Is it that life has finally got in the way? Only he’ll be able to put his right.
It’s true Moran was used more sparingly by Mayo manager James Horan throughout 2019, yet he still appeared in all but two of Mayo’s seventeen league and championship matches (ten times as a substitute), with only five of the 37 players used throughout the course of the year appearing more often than Moran. And despite starting each of Mayo’s Super 8s fixtures against Kerry, Meath and Donegal on the bench, he scored from play in all three games (Cillian O’Connor was the only other Mayo player to do so, and he started each of those games). Right up until the end Andy Moran remained one of the most dangerous forwards in the business.
“I wouldn’t class myself as being an old person, but I’m an old footballer I suppose – and I’ve been called old for seven years now. But it gets to the point where you actually cannot look at it,” he said in July.
“I know now I can’t run as far as I once ran and I probably can’t sprint as fast as I once sprinted but I do know that there’s room for an inside-forward that can do something just a tiny bit off-the-cuff and you’re always trying to prove to the manager that I’m good enough to go again next week.”
It was interesting at the time to hear Moran intimate that he considered 2007 as when came his first real opportunity to make his mark as a Mayo senior footballer considering that by then he was already four years in the squad, had appeared in both the All-Ireland finals of 2004 and 2006, scored a crucial goal in the ’06 semi against Dublin, and had already racked up a career total of 3-31. But you could understand where he was coming from too, since he was used as a late substitute in both the ’04 and ’06 finals, and was the first Mayo player substituted in the Connacht finals of’05 and ’06.
In ’07, however, he played in every single minute of Mayo’s nine National League matches, including the Division 1 final. And when championship came around he was a mainstay too, starting, finishing and scoring in all three matches against Galway, Cavan and Derry.
“I would say that my mind-set as a player was weak as a younger guy but I always felt that I’d get better as I got older, take my opportunity when it came and that opportunity came in 2007.
“Between 2007 and 2011 I don’t think I missed a game for Mayo at all. And then we went to Compromise Rules training and I broke my leg. And then it was a broken leg and cruciate inside eleven months. And I hurt my back when I came back. So was there a sense of reflection as to my next step after I finish playing? Yes there was.”
What that next step – in a footballing context – will be remains to be seen. Few retirees have ever seemed so suited to coaching and managing, nor exuded such natural-born-leader qualities than the boy from the border.
Andy Moran may be gone but it won’t be for long. Of that there is no doubt.