Under age standout. Kerry minor. Kerry Under 21. Kerry Junior. Breaking into the big dressing room seemed a logical progression, so why the sense still he’s an overnight success story?
“He was brought along to Kerry’s 2016 pre-championship training camp in Essex to make up the numbers essentially — and came home a starter,” a Kerry insider says.
Perhaps that then.
But Diarmuid Murphy, a selector at the time, puts the brakes on that theory. “Maybe not a starter. But he came home after pushing himself onto the squad, maybe even the 21.
He was playing really good football, we’d seen him playing with the Juniors, he was the type of lad who grew into it quickly.”
Being that bit older than the teenage tyros knocking hard at the moment on Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s match-day squads probably helped too, but Morley himself reflects how he was still a little light-headed when he first landed for senior training.
“It’s a big culture shock,” he says.
“I remember the first night I came in, I might have sat on the Gooch’s place in the dressing room. Now he’d be too nice to say anything about it, but you know what I mean? The couple of training sessions after, I noticed he was sitting there and I was thinking ‘Christ, I sat in Gooch’s place the first day’. I hope he didn’t think I meant anything…
“It is a culture shock, but they’re very good, they really bring on all the younger fellas. I know I’m only there a year or two myself, but I’d like to think I’d help the young fellas out now. It’s all about integrating everybody and the lads were very good to me, which helped a lot.”
To appreciate the real texture of Tadhg Morley in green and gold at Croke Park on Sunday, one must appreciate where he has come from. And what he has come from.
At a Kerry County Council meeting in February 2007, Cllr Michael Healy-Rae proposed a minute’s silence to mark the “dreadful tragedy” that had claimed the life of dedicated council worker, Tim Morley, in a construction site accident at Moll’s Gap. He was in his early 50s. It had left the local community in deep shock, he said.
It also left Theresa Morley raising two young sons, John and Tadhg, who was 13. A decade later, outside the dressing room after Tadhg made his championship debut with the Kingdom, the emotion for everyone present was as raw as his mother’s hug.
“Theresa’s family from Dublin would be good people, very strong. As were the Morleys,” explains Tom Spillane,” one of Templenoe’s greatest.
“Tadhg’s father and uncles would be proud Templenoe people. Proud football followers. They’d be quiet, but there would be a steely determination about them.
“Tim was a great man, and he left after him a very tight, close family. His brother, Dan’s son (Brian) won a Leinster championship medal with Páidi in Westmeath.”
Tom Spillane, in 1991, was the last Templenoe player to represent Kerry at senior level before Morley. Having coached him from Under 10, watching a mother’s pride in her son was raw enough for him too.
“To be quite honest, I couldn’t stop thinking about it that day. It put the heart crossways in me. My father died when I was 2, Pat was 10. He never saw us play with Kerry. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, it really is. I could empathise with that moment.”
For the three Spillane brothers who elevated Templenoe onto the national consciousness, seeing four of their club colleagues with Kerry this season has been an uplifting, emotional experience.
Tom’s two sons, Adrian and Killian, are on the extended senior panel, while Gavin Crowley excelled when introduced in the Allianz league final win over Dublin.
Last Saturday, the club tattooed Castleisland Desmonds in a Co League Division 1 game. They belong at the grown-ups table now. Ditto Morley.
“It’s just about getting stuck in,” the defender says of his Kerry progress. “When you walk into the dressing room first, you’re a bit unsure of yourself, but once you get on the training field, and you feel things are going well for you, you feel you belong.
“For the first year or two, I was only coming in for the odd game or two and you can’t get settled, but at the end of 2015 I had a few sessions together after Templenoe won the All-Ireland junior and once you get in for a couple of sessions under your belt you feel you are part of it and you feel you can play at that level.”
Tom Spillane has marked the improvements too.
“In his first few games with Kerry last year, the minute he got the ball, he was ready to flick it on. Now you are seeing a much different Tadhg. Like ‘I am controlling this, I am going to do something with it’. The way the Templenoe lads are coached, it was about skill, the love of the game, the freedom to play. And they were told never to get above their station. ‘Carry yourself well’.
“Tadhg has certainly done that.”
As a Kerry minor and U21, Croke Park success escaped him. Which added greater lustre still to the club’s remarkable surge from Division 5 in Kerry to the steps of the Hogan Stand. All-Ireland
Junior club winners, 2016.
“We’ve had a great run,” he smiles. “I played the whole way up. I won a Novice Shield,” he adds proudly.
“That’s what? Junior B? C? I won a Novice Shield, a Novice Championship, a Junior Championship and we’re in Intermediate now. I’ve come up through the grades and it does give you confidence.
“The senior team was struggling for a long number of years, struggling to win games, we had 15 or 16 players but we always fulfilled fixtures. They saw we had good underage teams coming up and they kept at it and kept going and waited for us to come.
"We had very good under age coaches, Tom Spillane was obviously one of them, Mike Crowley was another who trained us all the way up and became our senior coach. He allowed us to play a great free-flowing style, which brought us on as footballers.”
“He had great sacrifices himself, when he was in Dublin (teaching),” Tom Spillane says.
“Himself and John Spillane would haul themselves down from Dublin every week.”
“A four-hour commute,” Morley laughs. “John and
myself were the same age, we were great friends growing up. There was a lot of travelling to keep it going, and maybe we didn’t take the time to appreciate it until afterwards, what we achieved as a club.
“When we won the All-Ireland, it struck home listening to parents and people around the place. We were just happy out, having our few drinks afterwards, but you noticed men getting emotional and that really struck home to me how important it was to them and the club.
"They’d seen the club at the bottom of Division 5, struggling to field teams, and now we’re in Division 1 of the county league and winning All-Irelands, so it’s massive for those people.”
Tom Spillane drives home each evening from work in Killarney to Coss Strand in Templenoe, smiling at it all.
“We are all in dreamland. We are very proud of our football in Templenoe. We are a small, rural population four miles from Kenmare. That U10 team are mostly in college now, so we have them around.
"Parents were always willing, and the club is now reaping the rewards. It wasn’t hard, but it’s a good coincidence that the lads are all still here. I hope they stay, because the way things are now you are joining up with fellas (other clubs), the numbers just are not there.”
Morley played four championship matches last year after putting up his hand at training camp outside London. He didn’t make his league debut until last February in Donegal, where he lined out at midfield.
The graph rises sharply from there to the Allianz League final win over Dublin, when he successfully policed Ciarán Kilkenny from centre back.
“The Ciarán Kilkenny thing is kind of blown out of proportion,” he reckons. “I was never told ‘go mark him’. He was playing centre-forward, I was playing centre-back, it just happened.
“If Éamonn tells me to go man-mark a fella I’ll go man-mark a fella. If he tells me go play ball up the field I’ll go play ball up the field. I’ll do whatever he wants me to do.
I wouldn’t shy away from (the nitty gritty).
“I played Division 5 football in Kerry and you have to be able to get stuck in down there. Nowadays half-backs have more of an attacking license as well.
"I probably need to back myself more in that respect, but as a centre-back sometimes you can’t be leaving a gaping hole either. But look, I haven’t been given any jersey, No 6 or otherwise, so I am not going to be counting my lucky stars yet.”
Not eyeing Gooch’s corner of the dressing room for himself just yet. That wouldn’t be the Morley or the Templenoe way.