Moran finds something of real value in the darkness

Kerry midfielder David Moran bursts past Mayo half-forward  Jason Doherty in Sunday's drawn All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Kerry midfielder David Moran bursts past Mayo half-forward Jason Doherty in Sunday's drawn All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

My former midfield partner is at last getting the plaudits his talents and effort deserves

In October 2008, the dressing rooms and terrace in Fitzgerald Stadium were reduced to rubble as the facilities received a major overhaul. My own Kerins O’Rahilly’s club played a county final and replay amid the debris.

They had temporary team rooms set up at the back of the stand but both ourselves and opponents Mid Kerry togged out elsewhere and took a bus to the stadium.

Jack O’Connor was our gaffer at the time. Leading by two points as the clock ticked into injury-time we probably felt the job was done, then bang ... in the blink of an eye we concede a penalty and lost a game and a county title we ought not have. It was a car crash. As the final whistle sounded, I congratulated the Mid Kerry players in my vicinity and quickly exited stage left. I couldn’t stomach the presentation. As I didn’t have the sanctity of a dressing room to hide in, I grabbed a track suit top and wandered out of the stadium still in my shorts and boots with the crowd. I was headed towards the Legion club where we had set up base camp for the day. I sat alone outside the locked dressing rooms down there and listened to the loud cheer as Mike Burke lifted the Bishop Moynihan Cup over his head less than a mile away. Soon after, I heard what sounded like a horse clip-clopping down the quiet road outside. I lifted my head to see David Moran coming in the gate, tears rolling down his face, still in full match gear after running all the way from the stadium, his steel studs making him sound more like a Clydesdale trundling toward me. He sat down a few feet away with his back to the wall but we didn’t speak. The hurt was too great to say anything meaningful.

Eventually, after the bus full of our team-mates arrived and bodies were milling around and some semblance of perspective began to emerge, I received a text from David telling me how devastated he was, but how proud we could be of our effort on the day and the season. “Walk with your head high,” he told me. It stayed with me. He was a young kid at the time who had given more to the cause than most, and here he was in our darkest hour showing the kind of leadership normally reserved for an older warrior.

You see when David plays, he carries around a burden greater than most footballers. When your father is the holder of eight Celtic crosses, a perennial All Star and a legend of the GAA, that’s a hell of a legacy to try and live up to. I know it has weighed heavily on him at times.

Not by his parents Ogie or Ann’s doing of course, but to paraphrase and candy-coat the late Páidí Ó Sé; supporters in Kerry are an expectant bunch. And in their opinion, his lineage automatically means All Stars and All-Irelands should follow.

He and Tommy Walsh are the closest of friends. They travelled together in the back end of ’09 to Melbourne for an AFL trial with St Kilda. David didn’t make the cut. Tommy did. That stung him. It was the start of a test of character for him that you wouldn’t wish on your fiercest enemy. Having put the disappointment of not being offered an AFL contract behind him, he put his head down and worked hard to claim a starting Kerry jersey.

He was playing in midfield in a league game against Monaghan in Inniskeen in the midst of an impressive run of games. He was starting to live up to his billing. Then his cruciate snapped like a piece of worn thread for the first time. A lost year followed. Hours of excruciating monotony in the gym were to fill his 2011, outside the bubble looking in. Having done all the work to build the leg back up to a point where it was considerably stronger that it was previously, he took to the field in 2012 just thankful to be running freely.

He was released to train with his club on a Thursday night and play some ball as Kerry were winding down for a league game and David needed football. Early in the session, he jumped for a ball, landed, and crumpled in a heap. It had gone again. Just bad luck, they said. Another lost year without a game played.

Within the space of three years he had taken more body blows than Conor McGregor’s UFC victims. But true to form, he kept coming back — even when it would have surely been easier to hide from the disappointment and go travelling to Australia and meet up with Tommy for a year. Or go to America and sit at a bar counter and tell people how good a minor and U21 he was, and how good a senior he could have been... those guys are a dime a dozen.

But David comes from solid stock, he chose the more difficult path. He did the work again. Built both legs up again. Dropped weight, got in even better shape. He wasn’t for giving up on his dream. Last weekend, he was Kerry’s most influential performer in the All-Ireland semi-final draw with Mayo. The silky skills, fielding and pace have always been there, but the hard nosed tackling, aggression and manic work rate are new additions to his game, quarried from the long, dark thinking about how cruel it is to have it all taken away. GAA people love to talk about a team’s mental strength, without ever fully appreciating what that means. The likes of David Moran and Cork’s Colm O’Neill are the embodiment of mental strength and deserve all the good fortune that comes their way for their perseverance alone.

This evening’s replay offers David and his team-mates the opportunity to do what very few within the Kingdom believed was possible at the start of the year. But more fools us for doubting them.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us” — Ralph Emerson.

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