Moran more than midfield anchor
Colm Keys on the importance of a rejuvenated David Moran to Kerry's chances of stopping Dublin's drive
Before the start of last week's drawn All-Ireland football final, in that brief period between the end of the parade and the playing of the National Anthem, Kerry got together for one last huddle.
As the cameras focused in, it was clear who was doing the talking. Crouched down, David Moran was issuing some final demands of his colleagues. Moran is not the Kerry captain but he is their leader and he has led them superbly all summer. Words followed up by actions.
Remember that throw-in to start their first All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo in Killarney back in July when he and midfield colleague Adrian Spillane locked horns with Aidan O'Shea and Donal Vaughan for close to 20 seconds in full view of referee Seán Hurson.
It was an unedifying spectacle but a most important one for Kerry nonetheless. O'Shea's ability to win throw-ins is renowned and the consensus was that when Mayo had played Kerry in the league final over three-and-a-half months earlier, he had enjoyed so much physical authority in Moran's absence. So it was a statement that had to be made.
Kerry won the subsequent throw-in and the game with Moran delivering probably his best performance in four years. This summer he has found more consistency than at any other stage of a career that has ebbed and flowed.
Even at the apex in 2014 when he won an All-Star and was the dominant figure in that memorable All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo in Limerick, he had been dropped for the Munster final against Cork and also had to sit out the start of the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway.
A year later he looked primed for the Footballer of the Year honour at one stage after towering performances against Cork in the Munster final replay and Kildare in a subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final but that form tapered off on the run-in as Brian Fenton came into full focus in the final.
Moran clawed back some ground on Fenton in the following year's semi-final and for the league final in 2017 he was pivotal, kicking the winning point. But over the last two summers his influence wasn't what Kerry would have wanted it to be.
This year he has thrived, particularly against Mayo, Tyrone and the last day against Dublin when he orchestrated so much with his laser-like passing and claimed four kick-outs cleanly, the last a superb take to set up Killian Spillane for the lead score in the 66th minute.
For all their youth and talent, Moran is, arguably, the key ingredient for Kerry to prosper. His positioning between centre-back and full-back has also become an important component to Kerry, not for the defensive screen it can provide but for his capacity to initiate moves.
He is often Kerry's port in a storm, calm in possession with that trademark body 'roll' that allows him to ride an incoming tackle.
Ironically, he was the one cornered and stripped of possession for that crucial turnover that led to Dublin's equalising score the last day but it was one of his few blemishes on the day.
His awareness was also underlined in the opening moments the last day when he tracked Jack McCaffrey, whizzing by at the throw-in which Dublin had claimed and clearly intent on getting ahead of the play as he did for the goal later in the half. Both McCaffrey and Moran had turned to go back out when Paul Mannion kicked the opening point.
Moran has had to deal with much adversity in the early part of his career, tearing the cruciate ligament in his left knee twice within the space of 12 months, the first time against Monaghan in a league match in 2011 and then in 2012 when it repeated at a training session with his club Kerins O'Rahillys as he prepared his comeback.
Another year out and then another comeback was briefly derailed when he suffered a serious eye injury, partly tearing a retina in a pre-championship challenge match against Laois.
At that stage, he faced an uncertain future but responded well to treatment and was back for that summer's All-Ireland quarter-final against Cavan and only his second championship start in six seasons as a Kerry senior. He's had his fair share of injuries in recent years with issues surfacing in his back and one of his knees.
The return to the squad of his great friend and club-mate Tommy Walsh may well be an additional factor in Moran's resurgence this year.
Fittingly, there was that picture of the pair standing on the Kerry goal line awaiting Dean Rock's free at the very end of last week's match, Walsh apparently ready to hoist Moran for some added elevation. Leaders in every sense.