Andy Moran: our gladiator leaves the arena

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.

Photo: Tom McLoughlin

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.

Photo: RTÉ

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.

Photo: Hastings.ie

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.

20 thoughts on “Andy Moran: our gladiator leaves the arena

  1. Andy , what can I say…………. a hero, legend, super footballer and most importantly a nice person.

    Always had a kind / positive word for everyone he will be missed so much going forward . felt he still had something to offer in 2020, maybe 10 – 15 mins going down the stretch.

    time for other guys now to step up

  2. Best of luck in retirement Andy and thanks for the memories.
    What always annoyed me with Andy though was how few critical games he was on the pitch at the end when we needed our leaders, indeed we always finished with a far weaker team than we started with.
    This year we looked like we had sorted that, alas game was over before Andy came on. But it is a shocking stat how few critical games he has finished given he was our top scorer from play.
    Stats over the last 9 years below, he has not finished any of the 5 finals

    Total Scored from Play (Equivalent Points)
    AM COC LK KML PD Started Finished
    Year
    2011 QF 1 1 0 4 – Yes Yes
    2012 Final – 0 1 2 – No No
    2013 Final 5 0 2 0 – Yes No
    2014 SF 2 3 1 0 – No Yes
    2014 SF-R 4 2 0 1 – Yes No
    2015 SF 2 0 1 0 0 No Yes
    2015 SF-R 0 4 1 1 1 No Yes
    2016 Final 2 3 0 0 1 Yes No
    2016 Final-R 1 0 3 1 2 Yes No
    2017 Final 3 3 3 2 0 Yes No
    2018 Qual-3 2 0 0 1 4 Yes Yes
    2019 SF 0 1 3 0 2 No Yes
    Total 22 17 15 12 10

  3. Good man Andy… you sure did play your part. Little did it seem likely that the small boy at U-16 level could ever possibly do what you’ve done. As so many here have rightly said, you are indeed the perfect role model. Congrats and may you enjoy your time out.

  4. Wonderful piece of writing Tom, and a very fitting tribute to Andy , Gladiator and Legent of the GAA, not just in Mayo, but Nationally and all over the World, where Gaelic football is ever discussed!

  5. Well written Tom
    You’ve expressed the incredible memories we in Mayo have all been feeling since Mon so well.
    An amazing man in every way.
    Still feel my eyes welling up when I view clips of
    Andy on pitch. Gonna take a long time to recover from Andy’s retirement.
    God bless him and his family.

  6. I seem to be the only one asking “why was he allowed to retire?”
    He was clearly our best forwards in the games against meath, doneagl and Kerry when he
    came on. He was also superb when he came on in the league final.
    He runs a gym and will always be in great shape.
    Could Horan not have said to him come back in May 2020 we know you
    can still do a job for us. If time had caught up with him fair enough, but
    it clearly had not and he still has a good 20 to 30 minutes in him. If he was a new
    guy we would be saying he a had great season.
    What a shame.

  7. My favourite memory of Andy will, I think, always be of an FBD game in St Brigid’s ground, Kiltoom, a couple of years ago. The Rossies were winning coming up to full time when a few younger Rossies decided to start hurling abuse at Andy, the “Roscommon man” in their eyes. Big mistake. Andy got the bit between his teeth and a couple of goals later Roscommon were losing and was Andy making his delight obvious? He certainly was and the Rossies were silenced.
    God Bless you Andy and thanks for the memories

  8. Great writing Tom. As a late arrival to the scene, 2016, I feel some dismay that I missed seeing so much of his career. However, Andy quickly became one of my favs — for both his skill and the way he carried himself but also because he was the elder statesman. So glad I didn’t miss him completely, and my fondest remembrance will be seeing him with his kids in the pics after the national league championship this year. When Sam is finally raised, whoever does it will be standing on the shoulders of Andy and those before him who fed the dream and lived for that day.

  9. Lovely piece Tom well done. I agree with you Facetheball I think even at 35 or 36 Andy still has a good 30 minutes in him at County level he is still one of our best forwards and was definetly the difference in the Donegal game but I suppose reluctantly we have to respect his decision. I’d love to see him working with Horan and the team as a forwards coach but what ever his plans are I wish him health and happiness and I’m glad we had such a gladiator to play for us for so long

  10. Agree with you Facetheball and Backdoorsam and I made this point in another post. Definitely has another year in him – look at Federer 5 sets in 5 hours at Wimbledon. No matter who comes in next year, he won’t match what Andy had.

  11. A beautiful fitting tribute to a great footballer and thanks for the memories, and I wish you all the best in your future. A Dublin fan.

  12. Well written piece. Enjoyable read. Andy’s retirement however is not such an enjoyable prospect. Would it be fair to say that despite being sub and being subbed he was still our most influential forward this year.

  13. In terms of greatness he may not be spoken of in the same breath as ciaran mac but he was a better servant people forget he broke his leg and tore his cruciate in a short space of time . But his commitment to mayo was unreal ye have annual high and low he was there to make the mayo jigsaw again his piece is now lost but I for one remember that goal against us in 06 . I felt sick the very best players turn the opposite sides stomach. For ye gooch .donaghy . Colm Boyle. For us Moran. Keegan . Peter canavan not to mention Brian styles for meath for those who remember . As I said before .mayo keep doing what ye are doing it will win an all Ireland or 2 very soon . Carr will be a great . And ruane . Dub drive for 5 . Mayo for Sam soon . Good luck our old foe socks up heart of a lion we will see u in the stands .

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