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'He had every reason he could possibly have to pack it in' - Kerry's long-serving midfield general

In his 15th senior season with Kerry, David Moran is still a central player.

David Moran celebrates Kerry's win with Jack O'Connor.
David Moran celebrates Kerry's win with Jack O'Connor.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

KERRY COUNTY FINAL day started to go wrong for him from an early stage.

On the first Sunday of last December, Austin Stack Park heaving with expectation as the Tralee cross-town rivals from Rock Street and Strand Road played out a novel decider, David Moran saw his involvement come to a premature halt.

Within a few minutes of throw-in, Moran knew he was in trouble. He tried to play on but by the sixth minute was forced to accept defeat and had to be replaced, destined to stand on the sideline near the Kerins O’Rahillys dugout for the remainder of the game and watch on.

“You just feel helpless, I was kind of shocked,” was Moran’s recollection of the incident when speaking in May.

“Of all the things you’d imagine coming into the game, I never imagined that happening.

“But look, that’s life.”

Moran had torn some of the abductor off the bone of his groin, another injury headache to contend with.

Kerins O’Rahillys fell short by three points, the size of the defeat particularly agonising as they were left to wonder what difference the presence of their talismanic midfielder would have made. 

david-moran David Moran watches on during last year's Kerry county final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It brought the curtain down on a disappointing year. Kerry’s Sam Maguire ambitions were smashed at the semi-final stage by Tyrone, falling a point short after extra-time in September.

Moran was watching on the bench by the final whistle of a marathon affair, having emptied himself for the Kerry cause. It was a familiar feeling with a championship exit, Moran had been in the spotlight at crucial moments of previous setbacks.

In 2019 they were held off in the All-Ireland final replay, Moran producing a towering display but was turned over by a swarm of Dublin players late on in the drawn game as Kerry lost possession. In November 2020, Cork mugged Kerry in sensational fashion at an eerily empty Páirc Uí Chaoimh, also after extra-time, with Moran off target with two late point efforts as they sought to close out the match.

The winter just gone raised questions over whether Moran would remain a part of the inter-county game.

Turning 34 in June, he had two All-Ireland senior medals on the sideboard at home, his resilience and commitment was unquestioned after a series of setbacks on the pitch with defeats and long-term injuries that kept him sidelined off it.

Mike Quirke is a club-mate, a former county team-mate and a selector on the new management group shifted into place in Kerry for 2022.

He knew Moran had plenty going on off the pitch. Work demands as a partner in Casey Stephenson Accountants in Tralee, family commitments with his young son Eli an arrival in recent years.

david-moran-celebrates-with-son-eli-and-the-trophy David Moran with his son after the 2021 Munster final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

From the outside it could be viewed that fitting football into that schedule was a challenge.

“That was a horrific injury he suffered in the county final last year at the start of the game,” recalls Quirke.

“It would have been a much easier path of him just to pack it in. He has a young a child at home, himself and his wife Sinead, he’s got a busy business, so he had every reason he could possibly have to pack it in.

“But he also understands that this group is close and everybody is greedy; I suppose he is greedy because he understands that he has an opportunity to be part of that one more time, and he was slow to let it go.

“We spoke, Jack spoke to him, and everyone spoke to him, and he was happy to stay on and we were delighted that he did.”

And so he is back preparing for an All-Ireland final, sixteen years after his first experience of such an occasion as a minor against Roscommon. Kerry drew that game, lost the replay in Ennis but Moran managed to make underage amends in 2008 with an U21 triumph over Kildare.

That was the same year his senior league debut arrived against Donegal and his senior championship debut occurred against Cork. Since then he’s been a prominent part of the Kerry football narrative.

He came on as a late substitute in the 2008 senior loss to Tyrone and played a similar role in the 2009 win over Cork. A snapped cruciate in April 2011 in a league game in Inniskeen wrote off that year, the same setback hit him hard twelve months later.

By 2014 he was starting and toasting success, a final win by Donegal accompanied by his first All-Star award a couple of months later.

kerrys-david-moran-lifts-the-sam-maguire David Moran lifts the Sam Maguire in 2014. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

He lost a decider in 2015 against Dublin, drew and lost to the same opponents in 2019, starting all three finals. 

A lock to see gametime at some stage in tomorrow’s showdown, it will represent Moran’s seventh appearance in an All-Ireland senior football final. No other player that will take to the field can compare with that level of experience. The entire Galway playing squad have never featured before on the biggest day of the football calendar.

From the Kerry group that played in their last success in 2014, only Paul Murphy, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney are survivors along with Moran.

Another measure of his longevity is he represents the only playing link to Jack O’Connor’s last time guiding Kerry to Sam in 2009.

Still involved, still central.

“I’d say whatever plans Jack had for him (this year), he had his own plans,” says Barry John Keane, another Strand Road player and ex-Kerry colleague, speaking earlier this week.

“He’d back himself. He left no stone unturned. And he’s been performing well for the last two games at the age of 34.

“He grew up around football. His father Ogie has eight All-Ireland medals. He’d be driven himself. He doesn’t want to be living off his father’s name. I don’t think he’s going to put himself in bonus territory this year. When the body is right, he can compete with the best and he’s shown it so far.”

In the 50th minute of the action in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday 7 May, Moran was nudged into the exchanges. It was his first taste of meaningful gametime this year for Kerry. Cork were proving awkward customers for Kerry to hand off, the presence of Moran was integral to succeeding in doing that.

He helped gain a platform around midfield, ruling aerial exchanges, winning kickouts and pinning Cork back in their own half. The points flowed and Kerry cruised to victory.

Six weeks later and Jack O’Connor was asked underneath the Hogan Stand to summarise his veteran midfielder’s contribution, notching two points in the quarter-final win over Mayo.

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“Huge. Really rolled back the years. Like, we didn’t think there was 70 minutes in him. 

“He thought so himself by the way and he proved it out there. It’s a great asset.”

2david-moran-and-jordan-flynn David Moran in action against Mayo's Jordan Flynn. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That level of belief has propelled Moran forward and retained his importance to the Kerry setup. His display against Dublin was less effective than the dominance of the Mayo game, being robbed of possession before Cormac Costello’s goal, yet perseverance is not an issue.

Barry O’Shea, another of Kerry and Kerins O’Rahilly’s experience, spoke to The42 last November before the club semi-final and sketched out Moran’s underage status.

=“David when he was very young, he probably wouldn’t have an underage prodigy at U12 or U14. His brother Brian would have been the star coming through. David kept plugging away and working at his game, he came that little bit later.”

John Kennedy was the manager when the Kerry minors came calling. He had played during a section of the Kerry Golden Years with David’s father Ogie, struck by the star’s welcoming nature in the dressing-room environment then and later by his son’s humility, willingness to work on his game and capacity to deal with the pressure that comes from an illustrious family name.

There is also an adaptability.

Jack O’Connor’s return to the hotseat has placed a renew emphasis on Kerry’s kicking game and the skill required to execute it. When Kerins O’Rahilly’s reached a Kerry final in 2008, O’Connor was Moran’s manager and again at senior county level by the following summer.

He’s still utilising that skillset, it was Moran’s long punt in that unsettled the Dublin defence for Sean O’Shea’s early goal in the recent semi-final. Keane has spent enough of his club and county playing days in forward lines that benefit from the supply chain that stemmed from Moran’s boot.

“He has the outside of the boot pass. Those 50:50 balls that some lads just hit down the line, he can leave it outside you, where you (the forward) can leave it beat you. He’s a very good connection with most of the forwards.

“And I’ve seen him asking forwards what kind of ball do you want, which way do they want it bouncing, which is your stronger run? Which is massive. He’d be practising at lot, when most lads are just kicking it around.

“He’d call one or two of the forwards and say, we have 10 or 11 balls here, and I can lamp them into you the way you want them. That’s how his skillset is so high.”

Moran is into his 15th senior campaign with Kerry, a run featuring six All-Ireland final appearances, two Sam Maguire wins, two All-Stars, two cruciate injuries and an AFL trial with St Kilda.

But he’s still operating at the highest level with Kerry.

Still contributing and still trying to reach the top.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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