The last decade has been a time like no other for Mayo supporters. Prior to 2011 we had no experience in the modern era of dining at the top table on a regular basis but for ten years now we’ve been competing seriously for ultimate glory almost every year.
The story of these times – sadly, an era that was, despite our coming oh-so-close a few times, never crowned by claiming the Sam Maguire – could be written in a number of ways. A first-hand account of this era for Mayo, told by one of its principal protagonists, was always going to be compelling.
Andy Moran’s “Lessons Learned in Pursuit of Glory” – a book penned in conjunction with Colin Sheridan – is the first such memoir from a Mayo player from those years. Already a well established inter-county performer before James Horan was first appointed manager, Andy played a prominent role in so many of the great contests that came afterwards.
If we take that era – say, up until Andy retired after the conclusion of the 2019 Championship – as a defined period, then surely 2017 was our zenith. A mad, careering summer of matches, full of highs, lows and near-death experiences which then morphed into four of the best performances that this particular Mayo team ever gave. The destruction of Roscommon, the toe-to-toe tie with Kerry and the delicious way we undid them in the replay, the aching one-point loss to the great Dublin team in what was one of the most memorable All-Ireland finals of all time.
2017 was the high-point of Andy’s career too. Stephen Rochford’s careful use of him, giving him licence to restrict his runs so that he didn’t expend unnecessary energy haring up and down the field, brought out the best in Andy that summer.
I recall, it must have been in the replayed semi-final against Kerry, the thought dawning on me that Andy was now in pole position to win Footballer of the Year. Andy Moran, at the sprightly age of 33 or 34, an unheard of achievement for a player in the autumn of his career.
I was privileged, sitting in the Lower Davin close to pitchside, to see the great man in action in the final as well. He was unmarkable in the first half, twisting and turning and leaving the Dublin backs flailing at his elusive shadow as he caused havoc in the champions’ backline.
You can tell that Andy is proud of the shift he put in for us in 2017. He has every right to be.
The book doesn’t follow a linear narrative. This is good, both from the writer’s perspective and for a readership that, you’d imagine, will be heavily skewed towards those who shout for the Green and Red. We all know and recall so well how each season ended and a straight retelling of years which all finished in crushing disappointment for the county would have been tough to wade through.
One of the reasons Andy advances, though, for eschewing this conventional form is that he says people wouldn’t have been interested in his personal story. I doubt that’s true. Andy was a favourite player for so many of us and his story – told in the way sporting memoirs are usually recounted – would, I’m sure, have struck a chord with a wide audience.
In this book, however, that personal story is still there – his progression from playing at school in Nathy’s to college football at IT Sligo and progression through the ranks with Mayo all the way to senior and then on to appear in multiple All-Irelands. At times, it feels like he’s hiding bits of it away – I wanted so much to read about his famous goal against Dublin in 2006 and was genuinely overjoyed finally to come across it on page 213 – but all those big moments are in there, stitched through the narrative.
The book is, in essence, split into two parts. The first focuses on the men he played with for Mayo, picking out a defining characteristic for each one he mentions and providing examples of how they best exemplified that on the pitch. The second part is more free form, focusing on topics like supporters and family but all the while revealing more of the author himself.
Of the two parts, I much preferred the second. The first section inevitably suffered from being repetitive but also the device of matching people to a single trait was, I felt, a bit one-dimensional. That said, there are interesting nuggets in there, like the one where he describes being tackled in 2019 – two years after winning the FOTY award! – by Chris Barrett who was seriously unimpressed about Andy’s perceived lack of commitment in training.
Once Andy starts to open up in a more expansive way about himself and his journey as a Mayo footballer, the book’s pace quickens too. The chapter on what he terms ‘The Support Team’ was nicely judged – behind the person chasing the dream, there are the people doing everything else to give the dream chaser the best chance of success. This side to the narrative of sports stories doesn’t always get a fair hearing and Andy goes a long way to redress that balance.
The book ends with his personal account of several of the great battles he was involved in. Games we won, games we lost, all of them memorable in so many ways. It was great to get Andy’s first-hand perspective on them all.
Throughout the book, Andy’s love for his county and his pride in representing it on the field of play comes through loudly and clearly. Towards the end he speaks of his regret at not being part of a team that finally landed the big one but this is a regret tinged with optimism for the future.
It’s a future in which Andy might well find himself back in the Mayo story. He speaks enthusiastically about coaching – “If I can understand it, I can teach it” – and in the book’s conclusion he states candidly that “we should all do whatever it takes to keep the county where it belongs – at the top table of Gaelic football.”
Andy did his bit and more in his playing career to do just that. Those interested in learning more about what those heady years were like from Andy’s perspective could do a lot worse than buy his book and find out for themselves. Needless to say, it’d also make a great Christmas present for the Mayo supporter in your life.
Andy Moran’s “Lessons Learned in Pursuit of Glory” is published by Mayo Books Press and is available online from them (here) as well as at bookshops nationwide.
Watch out, by the way, for our forthcoming special episode of the Mayo News football podcast, featuring Andy in conversation with Billy Joe Padden, which will be online at some point over the coming week.