The Big Interview: Billy Morgan and Mick O’Dwyer back to the table

Eoghan Cormican:

Be it during your time as either a player or manager, what, in your opinion, stands as the outstanding Cork-Kerry Munster final?

Billy Morgan:

1971 was a special win given the margin of victory (Cork won 0-25 to Kerry 0-14).

As a player, naturally my first Munster final in 1966 stays in the mind. That game was played in Killarney. We hadn’t beaten Kerry in 10 years and we hadn’t won a Munster title since 1956. We put an end to that losing streak that afternoon.

Then in 1967, we went back to the old Athletics Grounds and I had one of my best afternoons in the Cork shirt. We won by the minimum (0-8 to 0-7). Of 1973, what can you say? We got four goals in the first 23 minutes. We got a fifth later in the game and it doesn’t happen to often that a team bangs five goals past Kerry in the championship, much less on Munster final afternoon. As a manager, again my first Munster final victory patrolling the sideline in 1987 was special. We drew in the first game, having led for almost the entire match. Mikey Sheehy got that late goal and I thought it was gone from us. A bit of quick thinking from John Kerins saved us. He delivered a quick kick-out to John Cleary, we worked the ball down the field, won a free which Larry Tompkins converted. We won the replay in Killarney and as everyone well knows, it is not too easy get a win down there.

Mick O’Dwyer:

The victory in the 1976 replay was a big turning point in the fortunes of Kerry over the next eight or nine years. Cork had an excellent team at the time. How we got through that day, I don’t know. There were more than a few debatable decisions.

With Cork ahead by a good bit, Mikey Sheehy kicked a short free to Seanie Walsh, whose bullet of a shot was saved right on the line by Cork defender Brian Murphy. The umpire proceeded to raise the green flag.

The amazing thing about that incident, and it has stayed with me to this day, is the fact that the Cork players never protested.

Declan Barron then at the other end scored what I believed to be a marvellous goal. That was disallowed. Declan was adjudged to have been in the square.

He was following the flight of the ball into the square and most players at that time were getting away with it. Declan, in my opinion, was unlucky. He was a marvellous full-forward.

BM:

Wasn’t he a great player? He was a big part of that Cork team.

MO’D:

Then of course Paudie O’Mahony gifted a goal to Jimmy Barry-Murphy. It was a game of so many twists and turns.

EC:

Again as either a player or manager, what stands as the Munster final that got away.

BM:

Oh, definitely the game that Micko is just after talking about. 1976. Interesting what Micko said about Seanie Walsh’s goal and how we didn’t protest. There is an interesting story there.

In the 1973 All-Ireland final, it was same referee, John Moloney, and the same umpires. Galway got a goal that day, Tommy Larkin took a shot and I dived. I pushed the ball up against the post. Momentum then carried me up against the post and the ball fell behind me. When I turned to pick up the ball I was standing in front of the line. Now the umpire started waving the green flag.

I turned to him and said it was no goal. There was a picture in the Irish Independent the following morning of me up against the post, the ball behind me and it clearly over the line.

With about 12 minutes to go in that Munster final three years later, we were up by seven points.

MO’D:

And playing bloody well too, ye were!

BM:

The same umpire said to me “Do you remember that goal in the 1973 final, you were wrong.”

I said “I know I was wrong, I saw it in the paper the following morning. At the time, though, I didn’t think it was a goal.” So then shortly afterwards (Micko interjects with the heartiest of laughs), he gives this goal and to my dying day the ball was not over the line. His feet were slightly behind the line, but the ball wasn’t.

Micko said we didn’t protest, but I immediately turned to the umpire and no sooner had I raised my hands in protest when he said, “you were wrong three years ago...” I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t say anything.

MO’D:

That game changed everything, changed history. Had Cork won that game they could have gone on to win so many All-Irelands. That was the one game that changed it for Kerry. It was the launchpad for us. From there we went on to take over.

Thankfully, as both a Kerry footballer and manager not too many got away against Cork. I won eight Munster titles in a row as a player and won eight in a row as manager in Munster.

EC:

If there was a transfer market in operation in the GAA, what player would you have bought from across the border?

BM:

There was a lot of them I would have brought in. Mick O’Connell, the man himself here beside me. They were two great players for Kerry. If I was still involved today, I’d definitely love to get my hands on the Gooch.

MO’D:

From the 70s, I was a big admirer of Declan Barron. He was a marvellous forward. He was one of the great forwards. Larry Tompkins also.

Sure it was Billy that got hold of Tompkins over in New York. I could have done with him in Kildare at the time. Billy was in first and he had him.

BM:

He was actually working with Christy Collins’ two brothers in New York at the time, Christy being of the Castlehaven Collins. They were instrumental in getting hold of him. I was working in New York at the time and I met Larry when he came over with the All Stars. We got to know him through the two lads and he was also going out with a girl from Skibbereen.

MO’D:

Sure hadn’t he fallen out with Kildare at the time?

BM:

He had, he had.

MO’D:

He was a free agent. The Collins got him for Castlehaven and Billy got him for Cork. He made a massive difference.

BM:

Shea Fahy did too.

MO’D:

Fahy was outstanding in the 1990 All-Ireland.

EC:

Why is it that a Cork-Kerry Munster football final is one of the most anticipated fixtures on the GAA calendar?

BM:

Well, for me the Munster final in Killarney is the one you look forward to.

Croke Park is great and when Cork are there on All-Ireland semi-final or final day, it is something you really look forward to, but the atmosphere in Killarney is extra special. On the Sunday morning you can sense this real palpable atmosphere stirring, even the week leading up to a Munster final is exciting. There is this buzz building all the time.

In my earlier days we stayed in a hotel in the centre of town, you’d go outside and there’d be hordes of Cork and Kerry supporters and they would mix with the players. You wouldn’t get that now. It was something special to be part of.

MO’D:

The atmosphere on Munster final day is ahead of what you’d get on All-Ireland final day. The rivalry then fuelled the atmosphere because there was nothing between the two counties. Had there been a backdoor when Billy was playing and I managing Kerry, Cork and Kerry would have met in quite a number of All-Ireland finals. Cork always produced fantastic footballers. Our hardest games when we were going well in the late 70s were against Cork. That is the truth.

EC:

Is this the outstanding and enduring GAA rivalry?

MO’D:

Oh it is. There is nothing that compares to it.

BM:

On match-day, the rivalry is just so intense.

MO’D:

Even the manner in which the supporters from both sides mingle on match-day, you don’t get it anywhere else. They’ll all be squeezed onto the hill in Killarney and there’d be no problems.

EC:

Why is it that Killarney seems to bring the best out of this rivalry and not Páirc Uí Chaoimh, or, indeed, the old Athletic Grounds?

MO’D:

Cork people absolutely love coming to Killarney. Cork people prefer travelling to Fitzgerald Stadium than they do going into Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

BM:

That is true, that is true. I mean, look at the Munster final just gone. Nobody gave Cork a hope. They were written off in all quarters. And yet there was a massive Cork contingent among the 36,000 present on Sunday week last.

MO’D:

There is huge uncertainty surrounding Cork-Kerry meetings. You never know what way it will go. Form goes out the window when we meet. 1975 was a prime example of that. Cork were favourites coming in, they had won the previous two Munster titles and we blew them out of the water. Cork were the second best team in Ireland at the time.

BM:

And what is worse is that this is what he used to be saying when he came into Cork dressing room after games! You’d be fit to throw a boot at him.

MO’D:

They might have thought I was codding, but I genuinely believed that.

BM:

We did have a marvellous team at the time, but we simply couldn’t get past ye.

MO’D:

Ray Cummins and Jimmy Barry-Murphy, these were fantastic players.

BM:

In the late 70s, we used to train like dogs for the Munster final. There was no Munster final where we didn’t go in thinking we couldn’t win.

MO’D:

Ye had the players. In 1973 and 1974, ye were the team with all the talents. We were struggling in Kerry.

BM:

But sure then you brought in a crop of youngsters in 1975 and changed everything, changed football.

MO’D:

You talk about training like dogs. We trained for 27 consecutive nights in 1975. Every night we did something different. We played basketball one night, soccer the next. The players were coming from everywhere, Páidí Ó Sé was coming from Templemore because he was training for the gardaí at the time. He attended every night. That is why we were successful.

BM:

Ye ran us off the pitch in ‘75.

MO’D:

We played Cork in the 1974 Munster U21 final in Cahersiveen. Jimmy Barry-Murphy scored three goals that day in Cahersiveen. Seven of that Kerry team beaten by Cork in ‘74 played in the Munster senior final winning team of 1975. It was an amazing turnaround.

BM:

It was, it was.

Mick O’Dwyer and Billy Morgan were at the official opening of Quinlan’s Seafood restaurant on Princes Street, Cork.


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