If Mayo are to win the All-Ireland senior football final this Sunday, one of the key players in that set up will be their majestic midfielder Barry Moran.
If Donegal have Neil Gallagher from Glenswilly, the mountain of ‘Moran’ from Castlebar Mitchels will be there for Mayo i lar na pairce. It will be a fascinating contest.
Last year, Barry totally missed out through injury as was not even on the championship panel, so when James Horan came knocking on his door after the county final against Ballintubber last year, he had no hesitation in giving the green and red one last shot.
“A chance like this you have to take it and you appreciate it so much more. It’s definitely something you have to take great pride and privilege in that you’re
wearing a county jersey on All-Ireland final day, and look forward to it,” he said.
He is quick to point out that a team who have lost two All-Irelands in 2004 and again in 2006 are not going to get carried away with the hype of winning the Sam Maguire, as might have happened in the past.
“Mayo people have probably learned from the past. We’re just looking forward to it and counting down the days at this stage,” he explained.
Mayo’s ‘Armagh’ experience
There have been a number of similarities to what happened to Mayo in 2010 and the humiliation they felt afterwards, much the same way Donegal people felt after getting a hiding by Armagh in the qualifiers that year.
Mayo were defeated by Sligo in the Connacht semi-final, This was followed by a black day - June 26th 2010 - when a proud Mayo team went down to a talented Longford team in the first round of the Qualifiers.
Ironically, it was the same dark day Donegal were defeated by Armagh 2-14 to 0-11 in Crossmaglen.
Coming off the pitch in Pearse Park that day, Barry said that he could never have envisaged that the would be competing in an All-Ireland two years later. Amazingly nine of that team, lined out against Dublin in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final.
“Coming off that pitch, no. We knew we’d let ourselves down and let the county down, simple as that. I was involved that day and it still annoys me when it is brought up because of the fact that we let ourselves down, the county down and everyone involved down.
“To say that we’d be in an All-Ireland final 24 months later, at the time if someone offered that to me I would have taken their hand off. But, at the same time, that panel that was involved, there’s still a lot of them involved now. They’re top-class footballers so maybe you could say it was the one thing that sprung belief in us all, to say that we have to move on from here, we have to work harder than we ever did and maybe there was a time when we took things for granted, I don’t know what it was but it is definitely a learning experience. You come through events like that and they build character. You push on from that and make sure it doesn’t happen again, simple as that.
“I think what had to be changed was probably the players’ build-up coming into the game in that particular season. It was no fault of any manager or that. At the end of the day when lads cross the white line it is down to the players and the players didn’t perform, it is as simple as that. I have to put my hand up there and say the exact same. It is events like that which will say it is either time to step up or move on. Thankfully nine of the lads involved that day were involved against Dublin and showed just how good they are.”
“When you look back on it now it made lads more hardened. It highlighted to everyone the level of work and commitment and training that needs to go on to make sure you don’t reach that low. In saying that Longford have went on and shown how good they are too but at the same time you want to be contesting come late August and September. In hindsight it definitely was a year that built character in us, more so than knocking us down.”
Moran and injury had long been a double act, which one would not want to wish on their worst enemy, but it is something that he has had to cope with since first breaking into the Mayo senior team in 2005.
“Last year I was watching from the sideline and cheering the lads on. Hopefully that’s all in the past and we’ve moved on from there to put in a few good performances. When you’ve a year out like that, especially when you want to be involved, it makes you want to be involved all the more. You want to make the most of the opportunity.”
But the road to recovery has always been boosted by a determination, which has been seen on the pitch many a time.
Remarkably, this is the first year, which he has been virtually injury free, but that has not come about as a result of good luck or chance.
“Last October, it was just get back on the panel and then try to get back on the team. It was take it step by step.
“A lot of people would say you’ve done awful hard work at the start of the year. Being honest with you, my work started last October. James (Moran) rang me after the county final and said are you ready to come in. Since then I’ve just been literally pulled to the side and worked on.
“When the lads were doing their strength and conditioning programme, I was doing a completely different programme. I had to start off on the basics to get my core right because they weren’t up to taking the bangs they should be taking. That was the root cause of it. I just had to go back to the basics. It was funny when the lads were doing all their running or pumping iron, I was doing non-weight stretching or squats. That’s what I had to do. I’m just glad that I had such a great backroom team there. Ed Coughlan, Cian O’Neill and these lads. Whatever they’ve done has worked.”
The regime that the Mayo man followed had him questioning even himself, but he bought into the system, again similar to the Donegal players’ attitude to Jim McGuinness over the past couple of years.
“At the start of the year when the lads are doing their massive weights programmes, I was wondering how I was going to fare out and am I going to be weaker than them? But Ed and those lads just told me to trust in the process, trust in us and we’ll get you there. And I did that and thankfully it’s worked. I’ve no qualms now and it’s 100% worked out for me.”
He also threw some light on Cian O’Neill, a trainer who people in Donegal may not be familiar with.
“I know Cian had a massive reputation coming in here from his work with Tipperary but I suppose from a Gaelic football point of view, the jury was still out on him. But I’d known him from UL where I played Sigerson Cup football under him. He’s a brilliant trainer. It’s not just as a physical trainer, it’s his game play and his game drills as well.
“He’s definitely up there as one of the best trainers I’ve ever had without question. Often when you’re under different managers or trainers, you’re thinking, God I hate the thought of this session. But it’s not like that with Cian. Every training session is different; it’s so structured and well planned. You want to go training. Lads are out half an hour before training, wanting to get going and that’s just the way it is.
“What Cian brings is brilliant and innovative. It’s not like he just turns up from Limerick, jumps out of the car and says what are we going to do now. There’s days of preparation that have gone into it and it’s so match specific.”
He also pays tribute to Ed Coughlan. “It’s the way the game has gone. The physical attributes that are needed now are so important. What was the norm ten years ago just won’t work now. Ed has come in to devise these individual programmes for lads that they need to be doing outside of training. Ed has been brilliant in the physical conditioning of the team.”
Muted atmosphere after Down
He said that the atmosphere over their victory against Down, was somewhat overshadowed by the injury to their captain Andy Moran.
But he was proud of how Moran came in and told his team that he did not want his name (Andy’s) mentioned again, as it was about going forward and meeting the challenge of Dublin. .
“A lot of the public talk was how massive a loss he was. He is a massive loss and he’s our captain. But the positive for that was the lads stepped up in his place. A lot of the talk before Dublin was about scoring but we hit 19 points against the All-Ireland champions. So you’ve got to be happy about that.
“For Andy personally it’s devastating but you can see him there behind us, it’s not a problem. He does more off the pitch now than he can on the pitch. He’ll be there on All-Ireland Final day and there’s no better man that’ll be there. He’ll be the one cheering us on. He can’t be involved for medical reasons but he’s the one that will be pushing us to the absolute max.”
Keeping the head
Another thing that Barry feels is that the Mayo panic button has been put back into a safe under lock and key. It is something that he feels Mayo have learned from and as happened in the semi-final, despite the late onslaught of the Dubs, his team remain steadfast and concentrated ion the task in hand.
“We’ve been in a lot of (tight) situations. Sligo in the Connacht final where we were two points down at half-time and we weren’t playing particularly well and weren’t firing on all cylinders. (Against Dublin) we didn’t panic. Dublin got seven or eight points in a row or whatever they got but we knew it was all about just winning the next ball and getting a score after that and settling things down.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a period in the All-Ireland Final that will be the same, the opposition are going to get a run on us at some stage but it is all about keeping the head, grinding it out and going from there.