Wednesday, October 11, 2006

So. Farewell Then, Mickey Moran.

Micheál Ó Móráin, iarbhainisteoir Mhaigh EoBoth the Irish Times and the Irish Independent are reporting this morning that John Morrison phoned the Mayo County Board Chairman, James Waldron, yesterday to say that he didn’t wish to continue in his post as coach to the Mayo senior football team. There is no quote in either paper from the normally loquacious Morrison, as telling an indicator as any that even a notorious spoofer like Morrison recognises the end of the line when he sees it.

Mickey Moran is almost certainly going to follow. He gave a bitter interview to the Connaught Telegraph (sadly not online) in which he made sanguinary and self-pityingly references to being slaughtered and butchered. Welcome to the Big Time Mickey – how do you like the air up here?

The most telling comment about Mickey Moran, and the short-lived Moran and Morrison era in charge of County Mayo, was told to An Spailpín by a friend of his, who was doing a spot of Maor-ing at the Connacht Final in McHale Park during the summer. An Spailpín likes to arrive early, so we had time for a smoke and a chat about matters pertaining. “You know,” my friend said, “every time I look at Mickey Moran I think: fourth choice.”

And that sums it up. Moran’s appointment came as the result of the Board scraping the bottom of the barrel. From what we can gather, we that sit in the muck outside the gilded palaces where the County Board do their mysterious work, Bradygate was the final straw for Maughan, and once the team were out of the Championship in 2005 Maughan’s goose was cooked. Miserably, however, the Board seemed rather innocently unaware that political assassinations come in two acts; not alone must you ice the incumbent, but you must have his successor ready, willing and able to take over.

The Board succeeded in throwing Maughan from the train, but they did not have a successor lined up. Perhaps they assumed that John O’Mahony would be only too glad to be returned to the Board’s favour, but Johnno is too old a dog, and has been burned to often, to buy any pigs in pokes at this stage of his life. Anyone else that was considered thought about just how soft and comfy that Sunday Game sofa is for a split-second or so, and demurred, politely but firmly.

As such, after some thrashing around the Board finally lit on Mickey and John, who were rather desperate after a notable lack of success with Derry, Donegal and Sligo. All Mickey and John had to show for their years in inter-county management was one National League title with Derry in the mid-nineties. The same achievement as Pat Holmes, who was damn near run out of Mayo on a rail in 2002.

Moran and Morrison had built a reputation as world class Gaelic football coaches, but nobody had ever spelled out exactly what it was that separated M&M from just regular smarties. One year on, we’re still no wiser, other than the fact that John Morrison must have read every one of those horrific self-help books, like What Colour is Your Parachute, that has ever cost the Amazon a rain forest.

Moran and Morrison tried to portray themselves as visionaries by instituting this “Nut” formation in the Mayo inside forward line, where the players would bunch in front of goal and then “explode” in different directions when the ball was let in. This was Hell on Earth for one-legged cornerbacks, and those who had been encased in concrete shoes by the mafia, but for every other full-back line in the country is was like finding out that Miss Angelina Jolie has been appointed new team masseuse. Manna from Heaven. Mayo got roundly spanked against Galway in the League semi-final and the only nuts that have since been seen in the county Mayo are those that Cadbury’s pack into their delicious chocolate bars.

Looking back, Mayo caught a rising tide in their Championship run – Moran and Morrison weren’t so much piloting the ship as doing well not to be tossed overboard. Mayo should have lost to a gallant Leitrim in the sylvan settings of Páirc Sheáin in Carrick after Pat Harte got sent off in the second half, but Leitrim failed to pull the trapdoor lever and Mayo escaped the noose. Galway’s decision to play without a midfield gifted Mayo another Connacht Final and while Laois were brave in the quarter-final, they were ultimately proved to be second division material. Liam Kerins will have his work cut out there.

Mayo poxed it against Dublin, looking back. It was a great day and a great game, but Dublin were as much the authors of their own misfortune as Mayo were Dublin’s executioners. Hype bubbles only last so long and when the sky and navy blue one burst, Mayo were the last team standing.

The weeks preceding an All-Ireland are where Mayo managerial careers are now made and broken. Getting a good run in the summer is no longer enough. In 1989 and 1996 Mayo were just glad to be there; now, with so many big day defeats behind them, Mayo must, must, must finally close it out on the big day. Mickey Moran remarked in the Telegraph interview that this is unfair, that he would be garlanded with laurels in any other county for what he’d achieved. Mayo isn’t any other county Mickey. The job in Mayo is to break the hex; nothing else matters.

And when the big test came, the Ulstermen failed miserably. The coaching revolutionaries chose to treat the All-Ireland Final as if it were just another game, and try to beat the hex by ignoring it, in best bury-your-head-in-the-sand manner. In hindsight, it was exactly the wrong decision, and Mickey and John have now paid for it with their heads. The All-Ireland Final is not like a pitch-opening challenge in March, and Mayo found out just how true that is on the third Sunday of September this year. Mayo played as if their mental theme music was Ravel’s Bolero – Kerry were soundtracked by Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. And that was the difference. Hammer of the gods, indeed.

Are Mayo better off now than they were one year ago, before Moran and Moran took over? That’s hard to say, but Ger Loughnane, for one, thinks not. Loughnane remarked in the Independent a week after the All-Ireland that the mental blocks he had to break in Clare in the mid-nineties were as pebbles compared to the great big boulders Mayo have to lug around now after their second humiliation in three years on the greatest stage of all. Mickey can whine all he likes about what he did being good enough for other counties – the fact is that the Mayo have often been as far as Mickey brought them in recent years and what they needed was someone to kick them over the finish line. Not only did Moran and Morrison fail in that, they may have done more harm than good in psychological terms. After the last humiliation, Mayo might react as Pavlov’s dog in late September, and it will take no small amount of conditioning to change that.

The most telling quote of just how out of their depth Moran and Morrison were was reported in the Irish Times of September 29th, 2006. It came, inevitably, from Morrison. "I learned a lot during the year and relished the opportunity to get involved with these players,” he told Gavin Cummiskey. In fact, I was honoured to be a part of the All-Ireland final day."

Honoured to be part of All-Ireland final day. Jimmy Nallen, David Brady, David Heaney, Ciarán McDonald and more have already had that honour, it was nothing new to them. That sentiment would mean the world to Cavan, say, that great and fallen football power, but to the people of Mayo, it rings hollow and eloquently displays just how far out of their depth Moran and Morrison were. Mayo, God help us, now and forever.

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