While James O’ Donoghue may have been inexplicably awarded Man of the Match at the end of Kerry’s Munster Final Replay victory over Cork on Saturday night, it was quite clear that the man who had been the most influential figure of the game was David Moran.
In what was at times a quite torrid affair in frankly horrendous conditions, the Tralee native’s performance showed the leadership, dominance and skill which many have come to expect from him. It has been a long and often seemingly unlikely rise for Moran who has now firmly established himself as arguably the finest midfielder in the country.
When Darragh Ó Sé finally hung up his boots in 2009, after a colossal fifteen-year career, David Moran seemed the obvious heir apparent. Moran, like Ó Sé, came from a family steeped in footballing tradition, being the son of eight-time All Ireland champion Ogie.
While still only 21 years of age and having made just cameo appearances in the previous two championship campaigns many felt they had seen enough to feel that the role of Kerry’s midfield leader seemed to be in safe hands. However, as is often the way in sport, things did not pan out the way the Kingdom faithful were hoping.
Moran struggled for first team action throughout Kerry’s disappointing 2010 Championship campaign, with Micheál Quirke, Anthony Maher and Seamus Scanlon vying for the midfield berth. From here on, things were only going to get worse for the Kerins O’ Rahillys man as a series of career-threatening injuries coincided with Kerry’s longest All Ireland drought since 1997.
Moran’s first setback occurred in a National League game against Monaghan in 2011 when, as is often the case, an innocuous challenge left him with a torn cruciate ligament. Little under a year later, he suffered the same injury, in the same knee, while training with his club in Tralee. Just like that, two years of his career were gone without even a ball being kicked in the Championship.
To compile matters, after making his comeback from two serious knee injuries, Moran suffered a freak injury in the build up to the 2013 Championship, tearing the retina in his right eye. It was starting to seem like luck was just not on his side. However, undeterred, he finally made his Championship return as a late sub in the epic 2013 semi-final loss to Dublin. It had been over three years since his previous Championship appearance.
Moran’s injury absence may or may not have had any bearing on Kerry’s five-year All Ireland drought, we will never know. But there is no doubting that his emergence as the Kingdom’s primary midfielder has had an enormous bearing on the team’s return to Championship contention. While a lot of the media attention last year rightly focused on Kieran Donaghy’s resurgence as being a key aspect of Kerry winning their 37th All Ireland, Moran’s influence seemed to go under the radar somewhat.
It is worth remembering that at this stage last year Moran was not in the first team, and had it not been for Bryan Sheehan suffering an injury in the quarter-final against Galway, he may have remained a substitute for the remainder of the year. It is rather ironic that Moran, a man whose career was so blighted by injury, got his break because of the misfortune of one of his teammates.
Moran replaced Sheehan in that quarter-final and has dominated ever since.
His performance in the All Ireland Semi-Final replay against Mayo was astounding. Facing a much vaunted Mayo midfield, Moran put on a master class clocking up 47 possessions; more than double that of any opposition player. His fielding ability, kicking accuracy and athleticism shone for the first time since he had been signalled out to fill the boots of the great Darragh five years previously.
Moran continued his emergence as a crucial player in the All Ireland Final where Kerry outmuscled Donegal and he secured his 2nd All Ireland medal along with a first All Star selection later that year.
It became clear in last Saturday’s replay with Cork that the turnaround in the drawn game a fortnight previously had not solely been down to the Rebel’s Alan O’ Connor taking over proceedings, as many analysts claimed, but rather it was Kerry losing Moran to a black card which had a greater effect on the outcome.
Cork may missed their chance or perhaps Kerry had a lucky escape. Either way, Moran’s dominance in the second outing, ably abetted by Anthony Maher, ensured there would be no repeat performance this time around.
Six years on from the retirement of one of the all-time greats, Kerry have finally found a willing and able replacement. There can be little doubt at this stage that David Moran is the heir to Darragh Ó Sé’s throne.