Andy Moran would love to say that it’s different this time.
That Mayo are approaching the end of a 61-year nightmare. He can’t. He won’t.
What he will say is that they are on the right track. That things aren’t as bad as people would have you believe and there are no Mayo footballers sweating at the thoughts of their return to the Big House this weekend.
Let’s start with that last one.
We’re all aware of the horror stories, the cautionary tales about how generations before them stepped out at Croke Park with visions of grandeur that faded like a mirage on the back of one traumatic happenstance or other.
“We like playing there, we love playing there, to be honest,” said the Mayo All Star.
“It was great to get a run out there in the semi-final and final of the national league. I’d say if I played 20 games there I’ve won over 50% of them so there’s a myth there all right.”
Moran’s figures are slightly awry but his percentages aren’t far off. To date, he has played at HQ 13 times. Take away a pair of draws, against Fermanagh and Laois, and his win ratio stands just north of 45%.
Dig deeper and the true scale of the problem mounts. Four times Moran has tied his boots under the Hogan Stand prior to national finals and he has lost ever time: two in the league and another pair in September.
Amid the ashes, he claims to see embers of hope. Their defeats to Kerry in the 2004 and 2006 All-Ireland finals have been raked thoroughly but Moran believes the years following both, when they disappeared off the map, are of more note.
That was Mayo then: a team whose spark could ignite for months on end and yet one whose summer could just as easily be declared a washout long before the fiercest fires were contested on the east coast.
“We need to prove ourselves in the All-Ireland series,” he concedes, “but our main aim is to copy the Cork and Dublin model. It’s as simple as that. Dublin have won eight out of nine Leinsters, which is the way to go.
“We are in an area now where we have won three our of four Connachts, we’ve made two national league finals in the last few years, we’ve been in [an All-Ireland] semi-final last year, a quarter-final in 2009.
“That’s what we need to keep doing. We need to keep putting ourselves in position to win and some day it will come through. Maybe it mightn’t be this year but we’ll try our best to make sure it is this year.”
The simplistic explanation for any improvement in outlook is Mayo have abandoned their abandon. A county that prided itself on it’s free-flowing football has reined in it’s instincts and corralled them with realism and graft.
Moran’s mention of the Dublins and Corks is hardly a coincidence. Like Mayo, both boast an abundance of gifted footballers but they are counties where success has been claimed by a collective will rather than mere individual expression.
Mayo figured out the direction football was taking long before now. It’s just that sometimes they loaded themselves down with the wrong sort of baggage, and Moran is a perfect case in point in how imitation does not always equal replication.
He is a full stone lighter now than he was four years ago when, like so many inter-county footballers, his desire to leave no stone unturned chasing success led to a situation where bulk itself became the goal. “I was doing stupid weights. I wasn’t training smartly. That comes with experience. I was being told lift a lot of weights and I was too heavy for the size I was. I wasn’t training to be a footballer, I was training to be a weightlifter more than anything.”
For Moran and Mayo, there’s only one weight left to lift. Manage it once and they will have to get used to an entire winter of raising old Sam Maguire over their heads.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved