Dublin could be surprise of the summer, says former Kilkenny star Morrissey

Former Kilkenny star Eamon Morrissey. Picture: Moya Nolan

Given health, a regular span of life, hurlers spend a long time not being a hurler.

Their go is maybe 10 years, early 20s to early 30s. Even for successful players, there are the twists and turns of aftermath. At least 40 years, hopefully. The doings of youth swell in and out of focus, coloured by later experience.

For Éamon Morrissey, this evening’s meeting of Kilkenny and Dublin hangs piquant. He hurled with the former county for six seasons, 1990 to 1995, before transferring to the latter one for a three-season spell between 1996 and 1998. Work (with Collen Construction) and marriage took him from St Martin’s and Kilkenny to O’Tooles and Dublin.

“My wife is from Howth,” Morrissey relates. “She wanted to be some way near her parents there, after we married in 1994. Baldoyle was the nearest we could afford a house at the time. We’re still there. And O’Tooles was the closest good hurling club, back then, to Baldoyle.”

Morrissey counted as a leading attacker during the early to mid-1990s. A right corner-forward, comfortable off either side, he had serious pace and could swivel off either foot. Hocking, as Wexford defenders repeatedly found, affected him naught.

There was an All-Star in 1990, following NHL final victory and a collapse against Offaly in the Leinster Championship. Ollie Walsh succeeded Diarmuid Healy as manager. Then came, after needless defeat to Tipperary in 1991, two senior titles in a row, victory over Cork in 1992, victory over Galway in 1993.

Éamon Morrissey is now one of the silver oldies. 

“The day was a nice experience,” he says, referring to that Kilkenny panel’s presence at 2017’s senior final, when they were introduced to the crowd as the latest Silver Jubilee team. “It was fascinating to see the new Croke Park close up. The dressing rooms are some size compared to what we had… 

“Our team never hurled there. But there we were, out on the pitch, dressed well, still representing Kilkenny. The only pity was that the current senior team wasn’t there, instead of Galway or Waterford.”

Born in 1966, he travelled a well established Kilkenny route. St John’s NS segued into St Kieran’s College. 1984 saw their senior side beaten in the All- Ireland final by St Finbarr’s of Farranferris. That year’s Kilkenny minors (for whom he was a sub, due to an attack of shingles) lost out to Limerick in a replayed All-Ireland final. There ensued a fruitless three-year stint with Kilkenny’s U21s.

“I lost a lot before I won anything,” he says.

Transfer in January 1983 from O’Loughlin Gaels to St Martin’s proved a hinge. His father was a Muckalee native, from a townland named Wildfield. 

The family had been born there before moving to a house in Radestown, which lay within St John’s Parish, catchment for O’Loughlin Gaels. Back then, the city club was nothing like the senior powerhouse it became during the 2000s.

St Martin’s, a recent amalgamation of Coon and Muckalee-Ballyfoyle Rangers, overcame Ballyhale Shamrocks in the 1984 senior final. The club went all the way, beating Castlegar in a replayed All-Ireland final. Éamon Morrissey appeared in both draw and replay.

He remains half bemused about this good fortune: “Talk about being in the right place at the right time… Training on a back as strong as Jim Moran brought me on no end. Toughened me up.

“I think it’s very hard to make it as a Kilkenny senior unless you’re hurling with a senior club. You’d have to be really exceptional to cope. I wasn’t that exceptional.”

Diarmuid Healy, succeeding Pat Henderson as senior manager, promoted Éamon Morrissey in late 1989. He was up to it. Eventually came those fruitful years, which sent him back to Croke Park, suited and booted, in September 2017.

The transfer to Dublin occurred after Ollie Walsh stepped down in 1995. As in 1990, NHL final triumph preceded severe defeat to Offaly in the Leinster Championship. Walsh’s successor was Nickey Brennan.

“The slog up and down had been getting to me for a while,” Morrissey notes. “Back then, the roads were far from what they are now. And it was looking like me being on my own as a Dublin-based panellist, because [Jamesie] ‘Shiner’ Brennan transferred to O’Tooles after 1995.”

Although Morrissey does not want to dwell on this aspect, there existed a streak of pettiness around travelling expenses in that era’s set up. “Ollie was great, a players man,” he emphasises. “But we could have got more support in other quarters. The whole thing festered.” 

Eamonn Morissey, Kilkenny is tackled by Cork's Brian Corcoran. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

He continues: “I had three decent years with Dublin. Won two senior titles with O’Tooles. It was interesting to see how another county went about things. The main problem back then, and it’s probably the same story now, is only having three or four competitive senior clubs, which makes it hard to develop players.”

This evening will be a quiet pleasure. The afternoon will centre on calling into his mother in Radestown, before the short trip into Nowlan Park to see Kilkenny at minor and senior.

Grace, his youngest daughter, is 12 and will come down for the match. “She has ended up the most interested,” Morrissey says. “She plays camogie and kicks football for Naomh Barróg in Kilbarrack.” Rachel, 22, is studying at UCD. Ellen, 19, is awaiting the Leaving Certificate.

He is animated about seeing a fresh championship: “I’m giving this Dublin team a right chance. They could be the surprise of the summer. Kilkenny have so many first-choice players out with injury that it has to affect them.

“I think Kilkenny are struggling a bit at, looking for new lads to step up and find the real mark. How many of the present team are proven performers?

“But I’ll always be a Kilkenny supporter. I try and get to every championship match.”

Éamon Morrissey strikes me as a man who closed all necessary doors with a soft click. Not someone for fuss and drama, he values self containment and measure. This temperament more or less made him a born engineer, a born quantity surveyor.

This topic also brings out his thoughtful side: “You are a good time in this game, as a QS, before you get on good money. You would be well in your 30s. You have to prove yourself over a few years.”

The industry is inherently precarious. Wry and serious, Morrissey recalls what 2010 meant in his life: “It was go to London or go on the dole. I was lucky I could go to London with Collen, that there was a position there.

“People give out about Ryanair… I couldn’t say enough about Ryanair. €80 brought me back and forth for a week. I’d be back in on Friday evening, only four nights away, and back home with my family for the weekend. I was in London until 2013.”

Hurling coloured, as per one anecdote, even those exile years: “I remember during that time, probably 2011, a brother in law met Jackie Tyrrell out one night over the winter. ‘Aren’t you the lad who hurls for Kilkenny?’ he says to him. ‘I am,’ said Jackie.” 

An idea dawned in the dark of a Dublin night spot. As Morrissey recounts with a broad smile: “Then my man says: ‘Hey, the brother in law Éamon Morrissey hurled for Kilkenny. Do you know him? Come on, we’ll ring him up.’ “So there I am in London, all hours, and he puts Jackie on speaker phone to me. I knew Jackie trained as a QS but had moved to Glanbia as a rep, after the bust. So I says to him: ‘Aren’t you the lucky boyo no longer to be a QS?’ There was this big laugh and ‘I am, I am…’ Jackie was sound.”

Now for Baldoyle to Radestown to Nowlan Park. He will be one of those faces in the crowd where people of a certain age nudge each other: ‘Isn’t that…?’ This crew will be thinking of how Éamon Morrissey scored the most famous point of the 1990s.

Go back. Croke Park convulses during the closing seconds of 1993’s Leinster Final. Wexford are a point up and just there.

Then Liam Simpson, at left corner-back, fly hits a ball to Bill Hennessy in midfield. Hennessy picks out Adrian Ronan, scooting down the left wing. Taking the delivery in his right hand, he adjusts his grip and looks up.

Ronan pinpoints Éamon Morrissey, gliding outfield. He gathers and strikes over, all one movement, with compressed elegance.

Kilkenny beat Wexford by seven points in the replay.

A neighbour from the St Martin’s club was killed in a traffic accident travelling to that game.

Now Morrissey summons, as if from some other life, a response to his sport and life’s unfairness: “I treasure my children and being a parent. If I’d known what was going to happen that second day, I’d have driven that ball as wide as possible.”

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