All the greats are known by just one name – Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo, Messi. You say the name “Andy” to any man, woman or child in Mayo, from Belmullet to Ballaghaderreen, and they will instantly know who you refer to. After all, there was, is, and ever will be only one Andy.
I, like most other people heard the breaking news of Andy’s retirement on Monday evening. I was fine about it on Monday and even tolerated the unnecessarily sly digs referring to him as a Roscommon man. However, on Tuesday morning, a good friend of mine sent me on the video to Andy Moran’s journey to 2017 PwC Footballer of the Year and something inside just hit home. To say it was emotional is an understatement. Andy is clearly one of the good guys in life, and that four-minute video captures everything that he holds dearly in his life – his family, his club and his county. It is well worth a watch this week.
To me Andy was more than a Gaelic footballer. (God I hate using the past tense!) He embodied the special relationship between this particular Mayo team and the Mayo supporter. Andy was the epitome of Mayo football and was the perfect ambassador for what Mayo represents as a county and a people, both on and off the field. Indeed, when interviewed by RTÉ on Tuesday, the man himself summed it up best when he said:
We come from a remarkable county in Mayo. People from outside don’t really understand it. The bond between that team and the fans and the people around Mayo is remarkable.
Within my own household, Andy has always been held in the highest esteem down through the years. Like any Irish father, my Dad isn’t given to handing out praise too easily but, my God, he loved Andy. Possession football around the middle third, sweeper systems, kick-out strategies and the black card are all lost on my father but he understands the importance of Andy to this Mayo team. There could be three defenders covering him in the full-forward line and Dad would still ask me why they weren’t just kicking it into Andy!
In fairness, back in 2016 and 2017 when there were calls that Andy was too old to start and that he would be better introduced as a substitute, Dad simply said he was the best forward we have and therefore Andy should always start. Andy would finish 2017 as an All-Star for the second time and Footballer of the Year. Dad was right.
The little lad too loves Andy. He likes all the players to be fair. He’s nine and Aidan is his favourite at the moment. To be honest, I’m just happy it’s not Philly, Berno or Dermo. It’s all about the little wins in life! After Mayo’s victory against Armagh in Castlebar in July, we managed to get pictures of the young lad with most of the players.
Andy was taken off before half-time in that game and it was clear on leaving the field that he wasn’t too impressed with Horan’s decision. However, after the game, he was only too happy to have his picture taken and couldn’t have been more genuine and naturally kind in chatting to my son. That photo we have is one to be treasured and has taken on greater meaning given Andy’s declaration this week.
My grandmother loved Andy too. To be fair, he was a bit of a housewives’ and grandmother’s favourite. You sensed they would be proud to have such a good role model as their son or grandson. One just couldn’t help but like the guy. He played the game with an infectious smile on his face and his positive attitude and sportsmanship would leave you feeling all the prouder that he represented your county. Andy was more than just a footballer.
My grandmother, a proud Mayo woman of 92 years, passed away in May of this year. She would always listen to the Mayo games on the wireless – as she called it – and never utilise the TV. She had a short well-wishes note from Andy which she kept beside her bed and indeed was a treasured keepsake which she took to her grave. So, yes, it is safe to say there was a genuine emotion sparked in me on hearing the news that one of our greatest players, indeed one of our greatest men, will no longer don the Green and Red jersey of Mayo.
Whilst all the above are personal reflections on Andy as a man, it is also important to acknowledge Andy as a footballer and sportsman. Andy started his senior inter-county career in 2003 and made his championship debut against New York in 2004. In his sixteen senior championship seasons with Mayo, Andy won one National League title (2019), eight Connacht titles (2004, 2006, 2009, 2011-2015) and appeared in six All-Ireland finals (2004, 2006, 2013, 2016, 2016 replay, 2017). Andy was also rewarded for his displays with All-Star awards in 2011 and 2017 as well as his crowning personal glory as Footballer of the Year in 2017.
I think it is a fair point to make that the Andy Moran of 2004-2010 was a very different footballer than the lethal marksman we would witness plying his trade in the following decade. As hard as it is to believe now, at times during the John O’Mahony reign Andy was employed as a wing-back. In some ways, Andy’s career really kicked into life in 2011.
In the Second Captains interview with Richie Sadlier this week, as well as all too casually dropping in the bombshell of his retirement, the Ballaghaderreen clubman also enlightened us on a moment that would ultimately transform his career. On a 2010 All-Star tour to Malaysia, where Andy admittedly “fluked” a spot on the trip (his words, not mine), he witnessed the individual training methods of the All-Ireland winning Cork players.
He saw first-hand the work and dedication required to get to the necessary physical level for top level Gaelic football. Andy thought he trained well at the time but realised these boys were on a different level. Andy remarked that he brought these learnings with him into the 2011 campaign and also tried to instil these requirements in the team going forward.
2011 was the first year of the James Horan era and the first year of a “new style” Mayo. There was a harder edge to this Mayo team and the nice guys tag of the Noughties was slowly but surely being shed. Andy would finish the year with an All-Star and was now very much developing into a classy forward.
2012 could well have brought another All-Star as Andy was very much a sharpshooter at the height of his powers, only to succumb to the dreaded cruciate ligament injury against Down in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park. A tough road to recovery at the age of 28 lay ahead but it is a mark of the man that he would come back from this injury as a better and more intelligent forward. In the years that followed he would go on to contest All-Ireland finals in 2013, 2016 and 2017.
Andy was both clever and self-aware enough to adapt his game following injury. As he acknowledged himself in the Second Captains podcast, if there was an NFL-style combine in existence in Gaelic football, he would struggle to even get in the door. He was not the tallest, quickest or the strongest athlete but in terms of football intelligence he developed the necessary acumen in spades in recent years.
Andy learned to be cute with his runs, was strong enough to win his own ball out in front of his marker and then with a jink or a swivel, accurate enough to kick a point or at the very least, win a free. Andy revealed in his interview with Sadlier that where he made his percentage gains on other players was by studying video tapes and being fully prepared for the challenge that lay ahead on game day. His dedication, application and preparation to his trade were whole and absolute. No stone was left unturned in the quest for self-improvement and team improvement.
Andy has expressed a desire to venture into coaching in the future. One would think that he would be ideally suited to this role given the experiences he has had as a player as well as the type of footballing mind and personality he possesses. Such positivity and exuberance could only be welcomed in whatever Andy chooses as the next chapter of his career.
Part of the sadness I felt this week is that in some ways Andy’s departure does feel the end of an era. Whilst scant consolation I’m sure, this Mayo team of 2011-2019, the team that has come up just short in four All-Ireland finals this decade, can arguably be regarded as the best Mayo team of all time. It is unquestionably the best Mayo team I have had the pleasure of watching.
However, as we all know All-Ireland medals are not handed out based on who deserves them or to whoever knocks on the door long enough. Quite simply and harshly they are handed out based on who wins them. Next Monday morning some Dublin players may wake up having seven All-Irelands while Andy has won none.
And that is hard to take, a bitter pill to swallow for us as supporters but also I’m sure for Andy as a player and for other warriors too who have soldiered for this great county without capturing the Holy Grail. It doesn’t seem right or just but that is sport. Some pundits may think of us as hero worshippers all too readily down in Mayo but I can say unequivocally and without apology that Andy Moran is a hero of mine and always will be.
So as a Mayo supporter of 33 years, I would like to thank Andy and pass on my best wishes to him and his family as many people on this forum have done. Thank you Andy for the points, the goals, the hard earned frees, the soft earned frees, the sportsmanship, the jinks, the smiles, the good days, and even the bad days. To echo Willie Joe’s sentiment from an earlier post this week, thanks for all the memories.
Andy may have struggled with the role of super sub but I will miss the sight, and the hope and expectation of seeing Andy warming up on the sideline preparing for battle. Socks pulled up to the knees in trademark style, darting and sprinting up and down readying to enter the fray. A break in play arrives and the substitution is announced over the tannoy system. The Mayo crowd stand to acclaim their saviour and a raucous roar of emotion breaks out around the stadium. Their gladiator is entering the arena.
Enjoy the break Andy. You deserve it. Recharge the batteries because I’ve a feeling you may have a role to play further down the line for the Green and Red cause.