Green shoots (on the double) as a star is born

I have a very clear memory of the morning after the night before. After the RTE News the previous night, that is. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff.

The year was 1978. We scrambled off the school bus in Newtownforbes, joined our townie friends, and made for the field and the promise of a half hour’s football before start of school. There was only one topic of conversation, well, two if you count the obligatory queries as to whether anyone had caught sight of the Reverend Mother that morning. There was legitimate grounds for concern. A grim pattern had developed, whereby if she nabbed us before we got into our morning football, the Reverend Mother (a decent lady) would order the first year boys to start the day by plucking some of those weeds that unhelpfully sprouted up in the concrete yard.

The previous night’s news bonded us as we weaved along the path, hopeful of a clear (i.e. Reverend Mother-free) run to our field of dreams. Kevin Moran was quitting the Dublin football team – and joining Manchester United. We could barely take the news in. How could this be? We knew all about the rampaging centre half-back, with his flowing, Mario Kempes-like hair, and his swashbuckling style. He was part of Heffo’s Army. Now he was off to the Red Devils, to the great Manchester United. This was the stuff of admirably imaginative comic book writers.

The recent RTE documentary on Moran was a fine tribute, with contributions from a number of his former Dublin teammates, several top English League footballers participating too.

The programme was a welcome reminder of Moran’s remarkable story. Two All-Ireland senior medals with Dublin – and the promise of more – followed by that unprecedented career switch. With United, he won two FA Cups, and also an unwelcome place in the record books as the first player to be sent off in an FA Cup final. There followed an impressive career swansong, first in Spain, then with Blackburn. At international level, Moran was an ever-present during the great Jack Charlton era. Noted for the bravery he brought to battle, Moran played into his 39th year. To top it all, he is clearly a very modest and likeable man.

Back in Newtownforbes on that day in 1978, we couldn’t have realised the breadth and brilliance of the story just begun. Kevin Moran leaving the Dubs and joining Manchester United. Where lay the future, the future of our collective hopes and dreams? We had our kickaround, and the Reverend Mother had to spend at least one more day frowning upon the vexatious weeds that were escaping from their concrete prison.