Where I see triumph, I still see Steven Morris

The editor has given me the inch.

Make it as subjective as you want. Be bold, he encourages.

So I’m doing just that. And more. I’m taking an indulgent mile.

You don’t know Steven Morris. Why would you?

He died 14 years ago. Actually, he was murdered 14 years ago. Struck down at the very peak of his potential.

Strange candidate for sportsperson of the year, right?

But to me, he was and will remain the embodiment of achievement, a person who wrung out every drop of the 17 years and 10 months that he had. Where I see triumph, I see him.

Steven was more an artist than a rugby player. I’ll never know how big he would have made it in what truly was a vocation for him.

Art school and cartooning. World. Oyster. His.

The pair of us were second rows for the Guinness underage team in Dublin. Others from the team progressed to bigger things such as playing AIL rugby for St Mary’s. Guinness, with the greatest of respect to the club, were going to be the extent of Steven and my rugby forays.

Notwithstanding, I fancied myself as a young John Eales in the lineout, although my attempts resembled that of a “crooked swan”, according to our coach.

Even if Steven too had height, he was never going to be one of the lifted. Power was his forte, handling certainly wasn’t.

But Steven, you see, wasn’t the kind of fella you could christen with a nickname to record such shortcomings.

Like it is for a lot of teens, Firhouse was a place where physical prowess was admired and feared in equal doses. Steven had the looks too. He was Teflon. Or so we foolishly thought.

The man never shied away from anything. Well, that’s not necessarily true. On the morning of March 1, 1998, we were on our way to a game in Sutton when he told us of how a transsexual had chatted him up in a pub the night before. The experience put the fear of God into him.

The date comes back to me clearly because Dermot Morgan’s death was announced on the radio. Two months later and on another Sunday morning, Steven’s own tragic passing was being broadcast.

The night before his murder, May 1, I had staged a pretty sizeable party in my family home. It being our Leaving Cert year and with the gardaí on strike (‘blue flu’), I thought why not?

I was to learn the repercussions of my wisdom the morning afterwards when my irate father returned to find a hastily and poorly cleaned house. Clearly though, as he was to tell me later in the week, it was a gathering meant to happen.

Steven was the fullest of souls, packing as much as he could into the time he had here. An artist with a brush in his hand, a bruiser on the field when with nothing but the ball in it.

In one game against the Garda club in Westmanstown, Steven picked up the bloodiest of noses after meeting a bunch of knuckles in a maul. He returned to the fray only to boot what he suspected was the guilty part as he lay in a ruck.

Swift justice. Wrong man. Steven was sent packing by the referee, disappointed if not entirely regretful that he mistaken his opponent’s identity.

He understood the game more than most. He was always desperate to leave a finished scrum and get into open play, so much so we’d square up to each other when he felt I held the bind for too long.

Steven and I were also on the first Leinster Senior Cup team from Firhouse Community College, known more as a GAA foothold.

Drawn to play at home, it meant literally moving the goalposts, the crossbars and shaping the pitch out ourselves.

Steven being the prankster, took great pleasure in lying prostrate past one of the try-lines as we painted the whitewash around him to leave a silhouette of a dead person at a crime scene.

Again, we weren’t aware how morbidly prophetic those actions would be but that was just Steven living life. At this time of year, it’s difficult not to think of him or his family.

In the film, A Bronx Tale, the father character Lorenzo, played by Robert de Niro, delivers the immortal line: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”

Steven Morris never wasted what was given to him. Watching the likes of Katie Taylor and Rory McIlroy this year, they haven’t either. When I see our great sportspeople maximising their potential, I think of my friend. He was given an inch and he took a mile.


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