‘I’d stay up all night to watch him hurl’: The Carlow hurler who wowed Christy Ring

The youngest in a family must expect ghosts, writes PM O'Sullivan. Moling Morrissey sits looking at a photograph of six brothers, lined up and arrayed in hurling jerseys. Pat… John… Eddie… Mick… Himself… Luke… Himself… The only one left.

‘I’d stay up all night to watch him hurl’: The Carlow hurler who wowed Christy Ring

The youngest in a family must expect ghosts.

Brothers ‘n hurls, the Morrissey brothers in 1960 (l-r): Pat, John, Eddie, Mick, Moling, and Luke.
Brothers ‘n hurls, the Morrissey brothers in 1960 (l-r): Pat, John, Eddie, Mick, Moling, and Luke.

Moling Morrissey sits looking at a photograph of six brothers, lined up and arrayed in hurling jerseys. Pat… John… Eddie… Mick… Himself… Luke… Himself… The only one left.

Back then, in late 1960, he stood fifth in line, sporting the green of St Mullins, Carlow’s most beautiful corner.

They are brothers but the man in front of him, Mick Morrissey, wears a Wexford jersey.

Rightly so, perfectly so. The previous six seasons delivered three All-Irelands with their neighbour. He is the first Carlow native with a Celtic Cross. Handsome and charismatic, Morrissey fitted the glamour chase that was Wexford hurling during the 1950s.

Anything seemed possible, even for a hurler from the wrong side of the River Barrow.

Resonant stories begin with a quiet swerve. Born in 1932, Mick Morrissey went into New Ross in 1950 as an apprentice draper. Local club Geraldine O’Hanrahans enquired.

He took the plunge and Wexford, not long after, deepened the pool. He cleaved the water.

Now this Morrissey is New York bound, three glories packed. “I don’t remember much about the lead up,” his brother admits. “I do remember the photographer’s studio in Enniscorthy. It was a disappointment from the hurling point of view, Mick going off, but his mind was made up. By that stage, he had a wife and kids.”

Ten years younger, Moling Morrissey became a terrific operator in his own right, forceful but elegant. He decorated the 1960s and hurled at midfield on the Carlow team that took 1962’s All-Ireland intermediate crown, the county’s headline success, then and ever since.

No one demurred at Morrissey’s presence on a Millennium selection.

A bigger splash lay await. On October 21, 1962, Carlow beat Cork by five points in a home league tie. Here was sensation, a young midfielder one of victory’s pivots.

Afterwards Christy Ring seemingly stated: “I’d stay up all night to watch Moling Morrissey hurl.”

He is far more than the anecdote but holds gracious about its durability. “Did Ring really say it?” he smiles. “If he did, it was something else. Because, let’s be realistic, being on a Cork team beaten by Carlow must have been the worst day of his hurling life.”

Despite the hoopla, his county’s hopes had crested. A standard roster, for Morrissey and colleagues, beckoned. On Saturday evening, Laois take on Carlow in an NHL fourth round.

One man anticipates this encounter with heightened interest. The two counties threaded his career.

That bobbin quivered from the start. Morrissey got picked, at 16, to play in 1959’s NHL Division 2 Final between Carlow and Laois. His crowd won 2-11 to 5-1. He bats away any compliment: “Playing numbers have never been strong in Carlow hurling, and there were nearly always five or six St Mullins lads needed. I was just one of them, on the day.”

Then mordancy about that youth’s experience: “I must have been on the verge of tears, the whole hour. The defender on me was butchering me. I probably should have been taken off, but they probably didn’t want to admit they were wrong to pick me in the first place.

“Somehow I got a ball into my hand, and I kicked it into the goal from about 30 yards. The most bizarre score I ever got… And we won by a point.” Another dip of the bobbin. Seven years later, Morrissey hurls on the last Carlow side to beat Laois in the Leinster Championship.

Possessing a senior title in three counties counts as an unusual distinction. At home, four had come to hand by his 18th birthday. Candour arrives with trademark humour: “I played club in ’66 in Dublin, with [Kilmacud] Crokes. I was living up there, and it was brilliant to win that championship. Luke nearly went mad, because he was the secretary of St Mullins. But we got over it… I went back in ’67.”

1971 and that same bobbin. He moved to Laois, for business reasons, and began hurling with Clonaslee.

They won senior in 1975, with Morrissey awarded local Hurler of the Year.

He togged with Laois between 1972 and 1976, still forceful, ever elegant.

Candour tightens: “There was ferociously bad feeling in St Mullins after the 1970 County final was left unplayed. We couldn’t field a team due to injuries and absentees, and the County Board awarded the match to Bagenalstown. I said I’d never hurl in Carlow again.”

Moling Morrissey settled in Mountmellick with his wife, Mary, a Castletownbere native. They raised four sons. He is a hale man in his mid seventies, easeful and watchful.

No mistaking, even on a few minutes’ acquaintance, the brightness. But pleasantness is no shake hands with blandness.

He gives me Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh acting as MC at a golden oldies shindig: “I was called up and he asks: ‘Was Mick a big influence on you?’ I said: ‘I don’t think so, because I wouldn’t have hurled with him, due to the age difference.’ Luke would have been a bigger influence, because I would have hurled a lot with Luke.

“And Ó Muircheartaigh said: ‘What’s your memory of him?’ I said: ‘Sleeping with him the night before he played his first All Ireland. I was going to Dublin for the first time, and I never closed my eye all night. And Mick got into the bed, and he was snoring in five minutes.’

“Ó Muircheartaigh came back: ‘That’s why he was on the team and you weren’t!’ I was 13 at the time. You don’t see too many 13-year-olds running around Croke Park… But he was right about one thing. Temperament is so important in sport, to play at the top level.”

Morrissey elaborates: “Mick just had it. He was amazing. He died a young man in New York, barely 60. As a man said to me at his funeral: ‘Mick Morrissey could introduce you to the President of America.’

"He tried hard for the Irish people over there.

“Frank Patterson travelled 300 miles to sing at the Mass. The most poignant moment of all was when he sang ‘The Boys of Wexford’. Over the years, Mick had made Frank really welcome in New York.”

Patterson’s voice carried back to the Blackstairs, to a trek made from the family farm in Ballycrinnegan. That great day in September 1955 provided heart’s desire and slanted aftermath.

“My mother was never at a match in her life,” Morrissey recounts. “This was her first match, ever. She has a 100% record. She was never at another one. Not even at a St Mullins match. My father was never at a hurling match.

“My brother Pat drove. I sat beside her in Croke Park. She hadn’t a clue what was going on. But literally just to be there was wonderful for her.” Mick Morrissey excelled at left half back and his adopted crowd overpowered Galway in the second half. Wexford had their first All-Ireland in 45 years.

A Carlow man rose among the elect. His family visited the team hotel in Bray and took sober delight in the tumult of celebration. They departed around two in the morning, too exultant to worry about an unfamiliar drive.

64 years later, Moling Morrissey laughs at the odd splendour of it: “We went down through Wicklow and got lost in the Wicklow Mountains. We spent the whole night driving around. The Wicklow Mountains are notorious. You’d be going round in a circle. I remember us approaching one crossroads three times…

“We arrived home the next morning, about half nine, and my father was milking the cows. He said: ‘Where in the name of God were ye?’

“I suppose he knew the result.”

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