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Andy personifies Mayo’s spirit

Sean Rice

Seán Rice

TO have been chosen footballer of the year by his peers is a singular honour for Andy Moran. It does not compensate for a Celtic Cross, but is an acknowledgement of his Trojan effort to win one, and how he chased away the clouds that once cast doubt on his football career.
Andy personifies Mayo’s enduring campaign for ultimate glory. Friday’s award is a statement of admiration for the wisdom and maturity and determination with which he has influenced Mayo in their all-Ireland quest.
It is all of five years since his career buckled after collapsing in agony in Mayo’s All-Ireland quarterfinal against Down. He had been James Horan’s big hope of leading the attack into the semi-final in Croke Park.
Nobody was in contact with him when he raced towards the Cusack Stand side of the pitch for the ball. And few thought when he fell injured that any significant setback had befallen the sprightly full-forward.
Not long recovered from a broken leg sustained in the international rules trials the news that his knee injury could end a promising career sent shock waves through Mayo’s football community.
His leadership and ability to carve out scores from the most difficult of angles had won him unswerving allegiance from followers.
To lose him when they were picking themselves up off the ground robbed Mayo of Moran’s unbridled self-belief and dented expectations in general of any real progress.
Those qualities first came to light when in 2006 he scored a significant goal against Dublin having been called from the bench by manager Mickey Moran.
But after damaging his knee we didn’t hold out much hope for a full return of the Andy of so much early promise. The years were creeping up and surgery and rehab would eat into the time left to him to regain full fitness.
Nor did a change of management seem to augur too well for his return. The sceptics among us questioned the wisdom of Stephen Rochford calling the Ballaghaderreen man to his squad on taking the reins two years ago.
We all now know what a monstrous error it would have been to leave him out. The manager identified in Moran intrinsic values that were to become the touchstone of his climb back to full fitness. Hours in his own gym pounding his body into shape with that dogged persistence that was recognised by his peers in Friday’s awards.
Credit, too, to management for not asking him to take on more than his years allowed him throughout the season. It was a process of preservation with thoughts always on the next game and the significant a part he had to play in Mayo’s journey.
And how impressive he has been in that role. Onlookers hold their breath when he comes skidding out to win low ball, to rise and turn and score outrageously. And stands rock in applause as he leaves the field.
His contribution to Mayo’s All-Ireland aspirations has been enormous. He illuminates the skills off Cillian and Jason and Aidan and Kevin with great scores in which they have assisted, and which he has acknowledged.
At 34 years of age defences tremble when he is in possession. He has become deeply rooted in the hearts of Mayo people. In essence he is still their article of faith.

Mayo deserved what they got at All Stars
THERE were other significant honours conferred on Mayo players on Friday night that they, too, would gladly forego for the ultimate prize. Six All-Star awards, including Andy who was selected at corner forward, were won.
David Clarke picked up his second award for his goalkeeping feats, which kept Mayo on track throughout the shaky qualifiers. An award manifestly merited.
Chris Barrett’s outstanding performance in the All-Ireland ticked all the boxes in his first selection, at corner back. In the other corner, Keith Higgins won his fourth All-Star, vindicating his reputation as a powerful defender with no peers.
No one is more deserving of a fourth honour than Colm Boyle. It his leadership qualities that drive the Davitts’ man, a fierce passion in cutting through niceties to get the work done.
Lee Keegan, last year’s footballer of the year, brings his best form to Croke Park, could only have lost out narrowly for any half-back position.
Aidan O’Shea won his third award also. And had no rivals. For his cool control in rediscovering his true talents, the Breaffy man won widespread respect. It was his best year in the Mayo colours for some time.
A further accolade was accorded him with his selection as captain of the Irish international rules team which flew out on Sunday to Australia. Chris Barrett and Brendan Harrison travelled with the Breaffy man and Pearce Hanley joins them in Australia.

Mitchels make hard work of overcoming Mohill
THEIR quarter-final of the Connacht championship against Mohill was expected to have been a stroll for Castlebar Mitchels.
It was far from that, and for a while in the second half Mitchels fans sat uneasily on the edge of their seats as the Leitrim champions discovered that the opposition was not all it was put up to be.
It wasn’t championship stuff the Mitchels emitted, more candyfloss football, lacking punch and expecting, it seemed, Mohill to collapse any moment.
Methinks they might have celebrated ‘not too wisely, but too well.’
Only in the final minutes did they get their act together . . . when Neil Douglas moved outfield and brought a bit of urgency to their raids. The full-forward did enough in those few minutes to earn the man-of-the-match award.
But that will not be enough to account next Sunday for Sligo champions Tourlestrane in the semi-final . . . even if it is at MacHale Park.
Moving the ball this way and that without challenge as they sought an opening to the Mohill goal suggested it would not be long until they did.
But the Leitrim men offered stiff resistance that grew stiffer as the game progressed. With everyone back defending passionately only one sniff of a goal came the Mitchels’ way, a close-in shot by Danny Kirby that was stopped by goalkeeper Padraig Tighe.
In fact on a couple of occasions Mohill took the lead, and in the second half when the Mitchels tried to shake them off, things became serious. A two-point lead was erased and Mohill took the lead with good play by Caillin Canning and Kevin Beirne.
As he did in the county final, full-back Ger McDonagh once more asserted his leadership qualities coming down field to fire the Mitchels into the lead. And then Douglas shook himself, and Cian Costello and Danny Kirby and the general urgency that was lacking all afternoon sparked the recovery.
Together with McDonagh and Donie Newcombe, Paddy Durcan held things together in defence and Barry Moran did have the better of the midfield exchanges, scoring two impressive points.
But the message was clear.

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