Moran and Walsh are an example to us all

Moran and Walsh are an example to us all

You know when parents of young children are coming close to the end of their tether.

Maybe it’s the hour-long ritual of trying to get them into bed and off to sleep at night for the millionth time, or perhaps it’s the timely tantrum they throw in the shop or restaurant that eventually forces mom or dad to lose their cool and snap like a worn elastic band.

If you look hard enough, you can actually see their brain scramble, like that emoji with the top of the head exploding.

It’s a very bizarre headspace, but the moment can just consume and transform you from being a rational thinker into lapses of stupidity. I suppose it’s like the parenting equivalent of the ‘red mist’ descending.

Playing in the closing tension-filled minutes of an All-Ireland final is a much like being that beleaguered parent. Croke Park has gone supersonic, most everything is a blur, every tiny element of the game is magnified and frantic, you’re only one decision away from being a hero or a villain. You are trapped in a form of controlled panic.

After the drawn All-Ireland final a fortnight ago, I came across the picture doing the rounds of my Kerins O’Rahilly’s club men David Moran and Tommy Walsh in the Kerry goalmouth as Dean Rock was lining up his last gasp effort at securing the five in a row from in front of the Cusack Stand.

It was obviously a hugely difficult kick and probably at the very limit of his kicking range given the angle.

I didn’t notice them doing it on the day, but somehow, in the midst of the complete chaos of what was unfolding, the pair were able to think with real clarity in real-time.

Tommy was going to be the Bull Hayes, and David was Paul O’Connell, and should the ball be on target and start to run out of fuel on approach, David was going to be propelled higher into the Croke Park sky than we’d seen any Gaelic footballer before.

It was a bonkers idea. But it was also brilliant.

What really typified their composure in that moment was that they not only had they the clear-headedness to come up with the idea, but they also had the smarts to check with the umpires and referee to make sure they wouldn’t get pinged for a 13 metre free should they complete their high-wire act. Once David Gough gave them the green light, they got into position and were ready to go.

Cute Narries.

The two boys grew up as an extended part of one another’s families, another mouth for Ber and Anne to feed.

For years in Strand Road, you’d rarely hear one name without the other.

Tommy and Dave were the Batman and Robin of every juvenile team they were on all the way up the years with the club.

Tommy looked more like a 16-year-old playing U12 and most opponents had a tough time believing the name matched the birth date.

They won what was to be won along the way and former underage coaches John Higgins and Francie Quill tell of how some of their toughest battles involved getting Tommy away from the Mars bars in the shop before getting him onto the field.

They were the midfield pairing when Kerry lost an All-Ireland minor final replay to a talented Roscommon team and were mainstays a couple of years later in 2008 when they claimed an All-Ireland U21 title against Kildare.

Later that season, Tommy burst on the senior scene like a prize bull of Pamplona clearing the streets of brave-hearted souls daring to stand in his way. David made a name for himself in his own right the same year. He came on in the final quarter of an All-Ireland semi-final replay against Cork in Croke Park, as the Rebels were starting to take the momentum.

Moran was only just on the field and raised his two arms high over his head out in front of the Hogan Stand to beckon Diarmuid Murphy in the Kerry goal to plonk one out on top of him.

It was some show of maturity. Crucially, he backed it up by making the catch and easing the pressure on a beleaguered defence in a high-stakes finish to help Kerry over the line.

I grabbed him after; ‘Jesus, that was a ballsy call Dave’, ‘Yeah’ he said, ‘But I didn’t think Murph was going to kick the f**king thing out to me!’.

2009 culminated with another All-Ireland senior title for Kerry, with Tommy delivering a near man-of-the-match performance with four gorgeous points from play over the 70 minutes and Dave coming on in the final quarter to help seal the deal. With an on and off-field relationship like the two boys were enjoying, it was going to takesomething dramatic to come between them.

Enter the AFL.

Australia came courting Tommy, and Dave was brought along to St. Kilda for trials also. Tommy signed on the dotted line, but Dave was back to Tralee and Kerry within a couple of weeks with experience gained.

Then came the tests of perseverance. Moran was starting to fulfil his potential during the league when his cruciate snapped for the first time. He wasn’t the first and won’t be the last person cursed with the bad luck of that injury, but he knuckled down and did all that mind-numbing recovery work to build the legs up.

When he started back training, he was released to play a bit of ball with the club and after doing everything he was supposed to do, it tore again without a competitive ball kicked.

I remember the night it happened. I stood over him as he lay crumpled in a heap on the ground clutching his knee. My first thought - there’s no coming back from this.

All the while big Tommy was starting to make hay after his move to Sydney until he suffered one of those watch through you fingers injuries that make you wince at just the thought of it.

The majority of the hamstring ripped completely off the bone as he over-stretched to win a ball. It was the same level of injury that retired Paul O’Connell.

Ball burst. Professionalcareer as good as over.

In many ways, it would have been a far easier path for the boys to believe the gods of the game were conspiring against them and just roll over. These two had been the most dominant performers in every age group they had played in since the first put on football boots and a blue jersey with Kerins O’Rahilly’s. In some ways, they had it easy because of their size, athleticism and ability, and were serial winners for club and county.

These were the stop-you-in-your-tracks type of injuries, and were the first major adversity they had faced.

David eventually got himself back on the pitch again after over two years of dedicated rehab and no football.

There were many who questioned whether he’d ever live up to the billing his underage talent promised or even if he’d play at the top level again.

The version of Tommy that got off the plane from Australia was not the same guy who played in the All-Ireland final two weeks ago. He ran poorly back then with little of the same explosiveness he had left Ireland with. His ball skills were scratchy at best, and he looked for all the world a beaten docket in terms oftop-level football.

When the big full-forward told Éamonn Fitzmaurice he needed to walk away from the inter-county scene because it just wasn’t working out and the frustration was becoming too much.

At that lowest ebb, there weren’t many who would have predicted he would be back playing such a pivotal role in Kerry’s surge to a final and replay in 2019.

Injuries and adversity can affect your mind far more than your body. Some people have the mental fortitude to keep moving forward with character and determination, others find the trip back up the mountain too arduous and console themselves by resting where they are, safe in the knowledge they once were great or at least could have been.

This evening these two best friends from Strand Road, whose families are so deeply intertwined through a lifetime of friendship and shared experience, will line out in the same green and gold that their fathers wore with such distinction, knowing they are playing some of the best football they have ever played.

David Moran and Tommy Walsh are an example to all of us - if you want something badly enough, you keep fighting through the tough times at the bottom of the mountain in the hope you eventually get to enjoy the view from the summit.

Of course, the result is what matters. But there is a glory in the journey too.

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