Don't take your eyes off it right from the start

GAA: All Ireland SFC Final - Interview

Pictured is former Mayo footballer Andy Moran who has teamed up with Ireland Active to launch National Fitness Day 2021. This year’s National Fitness Day will take place on Thursday September 23, 2021 and is supported by Sport Ireland, Healthy Ireland and the European Commission, with the common goal of promoting the benefits of physical activity. For further information visit Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy.

Pictured is former Mayo footballer Andy Moran who has teamed up with Ireland Active to launch National Fitness Day 2021. This year’s National Fitness Day will take place on Thursday September 23, 2021 and is supported by Sport Ireland, Healthy Ireland and the European Commission, with the common goal of promoting the benefits of physical activity. For further information visit Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy.

Just sit back and take in everything that happens in the first 90 seconds once the ball is thrown in on Saturday night; that's the advice of former Mayo captain Andy Moran.

The Ballaghaderreen man was speaking this week at the launch of Ireland Active National Fitness Day 2021. This year’s National Fitness Day will take place on Thursday September 23.

"What I am going to try to do in my nervous anticipation before the game, if you can just sit back and take in the first 90 seconds of this game, we are going to see the finest bit of clipping off one another in a game, because these two teams are going to bring physicality.

"Because if you are playing Dublin and James McCarthy wins a ball in the middle of the field, he is either going to go straight for goal or try to win a free or he is going to try and keep the ball for three minutes. In this game, there is going to be collisions, there is going to be nervousness, there is going to be everything we love about our game in the first 90 seconds of this game.

"I am just going to sit back and watch it; the talk before is going to be all about what level the team is at and what level they need to go to."

As for what it is going to be like in the bowels of the Hogan Stand in the lead-up to Mayo taking the field, having been there as the team's on-field leader before, it's all about just seeing how the mood is to make sure everyone is ready to go come throw-in, Moran says.

"You just have to read the energy of the room. Sometimes the room needs a pick-up, other times the room needs to calm down. James Horan will lead that, and then if Aidan needs to say something he will have a little communication. There will be nothing preordained, because sometimes the levels can be too high.

"You are 20-25 minutes in before you leave that dressing-room. You have a warm-up to do, you have to go out and meet the president, a parade to do, so you have an awful lot of stuff to do before you get to the game - so you don’t want to be ready to play at 4.35, you want to be ready to play at 4.59 just when that ball is thrown in."

Ambition was there to play for Mayo at the top level

Moran was part of Michael Solan's management team with the Mayo u20s in 2020. While the season wasn't a long one for them, in the time he spent with the team and a number of the current crop of players, he could see how many of them wanted to take the next step.

"That was always the aim, and I think that’s what has kind of changed in Mayo football over the years - the aim was always to win minors and under-21s, we were obsessed with that grade.

"But with 17s and 20s now, the aim is to get senior players out of those squads. And yes, you go to try and win - like with the 20s for example, we were very unlucky.

"We played Galway, who went on and won the final. We played Galway in a storm and lost on penalties. Oisin Mullin missed the penalty - would you believe that lost us the game. But they were really ambitious fellas. Kieran Shannon at the time came in and gave us a tiny bit of help with the 20s - his mantra was, ‘listen, yes we are going to try to win this 20s thing but what is your ambition here, do you want to play for Mayo for the next decade?’

"And he got a unanimous yes from David McBrien, Paul Towey, Jack Carney, Jack Coyne, Oisin Mullin - who was already in the seniors, and Enda Hession - you could see him growing within the team meetings. Mark Moran, a guy that has been forgotten about, he went straight into the senior team and made an impact. All of these guys were ambitious and ready to go into the senior squad. And James Horan, to his absolute credit, went after them and gave them the opportunity to go in and perform. And they went in and they’ve taken their chances."

Mayo supporters are waiting on tenterhooks to see will either Oisin Mullin or Eoghan McLaughlin or both of them make it back in time for Saturday's game - even having just one of them would be huge for Mayo, Moran believes.

"At this present moment, the feedback around Mayo is that the two of them will play and that is what we are hoping. Me, on a personal level, if you gave me one of them guys leaving Croke Park four weeks ago, I’d have taken one of them and I think it is going to be a huge benefit."

It could be a huge game for the Mayo captain

The semi-final win over Dublin wasn't the best game that Mayo captain Aidan O'Shea had for the county, but Moran feels that he will come good on Saturday and he himself experienced a similar poor semi-final as captain going into a final before.

"To me, there is no question mark. Aidan O’Shea starts and for us to win this game, Aidan O’Shea needs to play a pivotal role. His physicality, Frank Burns not attacking, gives him a chance to stay high up the field in around that centre section where he can create that figure. They can give him the ball, bring in two or three bits of traffic and lay it off to the smaller, creative younger players. I don’t think there is any chance Aidan doesn’t start and I expect him to have a big game.

"To be honest, I was in a very similar station myself in 2013 where I played Tyrone in a semi-final. I was captain of the team, I didn’t have a good game , I got taken off, maybe at the same minute as Aidan O’Shea was - at that stage you have nothing, you are going into a final, people are questioning you for the first time, you have nothing to lose, you just have to go for it and you have to play to your role in the team.

"I know Aidan, similar to myself in 2013, he picked up a knock before the game and he was in a boot pre-game, he was in a boot after the game, so he probably did well to get 45 or 46 minutes out of himself.

"As a forward, the key thing is that you are shooting, if you’re not shooting you can’t score and Aidan had two shots he should have scored in the first half - he had a third ball that came in from Lee Keegan in the second half, when he should have flicked it over the bar.

"He very easily could have turned that into a three point game for himself and that would have been a big return for Aidan O’Shea, so I expect him to throw the shackles off and play with a bit of freedom and have a big influence in the game."

The one that really hurts

Having been involved in a number of All Ireland finals down through the years with Mayo, there is one loss that hurts Moran more than most - and that was the one he couldn't even play in, due to injury.

"I can't under-estimate the importance of playing in a team that haven’t got an All Ireland; our biggest problem is that over the years, we never got over the line.

"I’ve seen it with other teams I’ve been involved with, club, college - once you get over the line and you know how to win, the next one becomes easier, particularly when you get to a final, because you know how to actually get there; all the other times you’re searching.

"The final would be the one I didn’t play in, the Donegal final. When I look back, it was probably the hardest two weeks in my life leading into it, being injured and not being part of it - but that was the one that got away, not because Donegal were anything, any lower of a team than us or anything like that; or Dublin, who were a fantastic team. With Rory Gallagher and Jim McGuinness pulling the strings from the sideline, they were an exceptional team.

"But they didn’t know how to win either and that was the chance; and on Saturday, the chance for both Tyrone and Mayo lies in the fact that neither team have All Ireland medals and got over the line before. You go up and play a Dublin team - you know when you are going to play Dublin in the final, they are going to play really well and that makes it exceptionally difficult.

"You know, you have to play at your pinnacle to beat them. I said I feel both Tyrone and Mayo will give away the ball, there will be massive turnovers, there will be kick-outs that go astray, people will miss frees - this will happen on Saturday and you’ll see stuff in a final that hasn’t happened for a couple of years; but in that then lies the opportunity to go and win the game."

Like a medal in his own pocket if they win

If Mayo get over the line on Saturday evening, it was put to Moran would it be like having a medal put in his own pocket - having been such a key part in the county's journey to this stage, to which he replied: "I appreciate the way you asked that question, that's a nice way to put it and that's the way I look at it. It's a relay race really. You go in and you try, like, I went in and played in five finals and for the sixth one, I was injured, as the captain; like, I had my go, I had my chance.

"I had plenty of opportunities to go and win that and I didn't do it. Then you have to hand over the baton; you see the likes of Ryan O'Donoghue and Tommy Conroy and these guys coming through. You hope you gave them something and if you did, lovely, and if they're taking something from it, great; but it doesn't matter. Mayo are in an All-Ireland final with a huge chance to win it and if they win it, I think I'll take nearly...of course you always want to win one as a player - but I think I'd nearly take as much satisfaction out of it as if I actually played.

"I have two young kids, one in first class and one in pre-school, and the two of them are learning 'The Green and Red of Mayo' and everything. I think when you have kids, you just want to see them with the trophy and that. It kind of changes your whole perspective on it. I've been very fortunate in that regard. I think the way you've put it is a lovely way to put it and I would feel that we've contributed in some way or fashion to the Mayo team that's on the field on Saturday."


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