Clinton’s getting his kicks in Ireland’s green shirt

Birmingham striker Clinton Morrison is a fun-loving guy but is deadly serious about his game. Bill George reports

PROTOCOL and custom disappear when the Clinton Morrison cabaret show hits town. The cheerful chappie from London is on international duty with Ireland and all is right with the world.

This is the role he loves, the one he was born to fill. He believes that, fervently. He said as much yesterday and you just knew it was a conviction that gave him immense pleasure. He was pleased to say he is an Irish international footballer and, boy, did it show.

Press conferences with Clinton are different. Where most footballers approach conferences with about as much enthusiasm as a visit to the dentist, Clinton bounds into the room with a big smile and you can visualise him thinking: "The press. Bring 'em on, bring 'em all on".

His conferences have snap, crackle and pop and as many laughs as a Billy Connolly concert. He is spontaneous and outspoken, brash and irreverent and always in a good-humoured, self-mocking way.

He's played 11 games for Ireland and scored five goals. That statistic is all the more remarkable given he started in only two of those matches. He might well be given his most important start against Russia on Saturday. The prospect of it excites him. He was asked did he enjoy international football and he fairly thrived on the prospects that question opened up for him as he said: "International football? I don't know really, it took to me straight away really.

"The crowd have been brilliant to me and I don't know, just that it's been good. I've only started two games and managed to score five goals so it's not too bad in 11 appearances, some as sub.

"But yeah, it is brilliant but I don't know, maybe it's that green jersey. It just brings the best out of me and I should wear that all the time, shouldn't I really ?"

Morrison is the archetypal Londoner, sharp and opinionated. Just as he enjoys the physical combat of the football pitch, he responds to the challenge of trading words with a room full of newspaper reporters, a chore many of his colleagues would rather bypass.

"I'm just enjoying my football. I love it over here, I love the fans, I love everyone, I love talking to you guys, I don't mind having a bit of banter with you.

"It's good fun. I wouldn't talk to the English press but you guys, you're all right. I like your press, none of you has given me bad press, but we'll have to wait and see ... maybe that guy (pointing), oh yeah, he doesn't think I'll get in the team. But maybe that's a Birmingham thing, but this is Ireland right ?"

Morrison played in Brian Kerr's first match, the friendly against Scotland at Hampden Park. But then a dislocated shoulder interrupted his season as he spent five months recovering after surgery. It has made him impatient for more football.

"The new season's been good to be fair, I've felt good in myself. Obviously I would have liked to have played more games for Birmingham but I've been out for five months.

"The manager said he didn't want to rush me back into the big games we had coming up so obviously I came over to Ireland and played against Australia and I felt good in that game and managed to do all right and score a goal so I felt good.

"I felt good because they are a good team, Australia, and it was competitive and I managed to get a few knocks on my shoulder and it gave me more confidence and then I managed to score the goal."

Enthusiasm is what Morrison brings to football, the enthusiasm of a young player emerging into the big time, one who has not yet embraced the 'professional' attitude of treating everything and everybody with a certain reserve. This enthusiasm showed when he spoke of his interaction with Brian Kerr and his assistant Chris Hughton, and his club manager Steve Bruce, when Morrison was making a come-back against Australia after his injury.

"Brian Kerr and Chris spoke about the manager (Bruce) and Brian said he wants me to have as many games as possible before Russia. So I'm texting Bruce my manager and I said, 'can I play a game the day after Australia?' and he was pleased that I did that and he said 'yeah, no problem'.

"So I played in about 65 minutes in that when I went back to Birmingham and it was all right to be fair. And then I played another (friendly) game last week against Bolton where we drew three all and I scored two goals in that and he (Bruce) said to me I'm looking sharp and it's only a matter of time now."

The damaged shoulder still haunts him as he forced to wear protective padding every time he plays.

"I have to wear this all the time because it gives me added protection and I think after a couple of years he (the surgeon) said you don't have to wear it.

"It's like a gladiator thing, you just throw it over your shoulders and get it strapped down but I'm used to it now.

"I've worn it for a couple of years before anyway and hopefully that's the end of my injuries with my shoulders now because I have the other shoulder done five years ago."

He recalled the difficult start Ireland had to this European Championship and the background to their 4-2 defeat by Russia in Moscow.

"That was a bad night, I came on with 15 minutes to go and we lost one of the best players on the team, Damien Duff, that was a big blow.

"On the night really we didn't defend well and it was difficult and I think after that we played Switzerland and it was another hard game and the crowd got on a few of the boys' backs, and on the manager's back and were singing for Keano to come back and it was difficult but now Brian Kerr has come in and I think he's brilliant."

Recently Morrison was sucked into an issue with the police when he accepted a lift in a car which was then stopped by officers who found some drugs on board. The incident helped to bond still further his good relationship with Ireland's team manager and he explained: "Brian Kerr is brilliant cos he likes me anyway so it is a good thing. But he is a good manager and he knows how to talk to players and if we've got problems we know we can go and speak to him and he will discuss it with us.

"When I was in trouble recently, when I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he texted me straight away and said if I needed someone to talk to, he would be there for me so it was good and it is good to have people like that around."

His happy relationship with the management team extends to the squad in general and helped explain his up-beat good humour "This is a great bunch of lads, I enjoy it. Every time I look forward to coming over here, I was counting the days from the match against Australia to come back here because I knew it was a big game and the boys are brilliant, great craic, and they're a great bunch of lads, I enjoy it."

Who would he like as striking partner against Russia, he was asked, if Kerr included him in the team: "I don't know yet if I'm going to be in the team and if I am then it's difficult to call who I would like to play with, it's difficult.

"There's a lot of good strikers and I can't say which one I would like to play with but I would like Duff definitely, he does it for me. He doesn't like playing up front he says but I think he could play anywhere on the pitch. I think that at the moment he is one of the best midfielders in the world and the move to Chelsea will help him."

And if he is selected what would it mean to him ? "It will be brilliant, it will be the best feeling ever and if I score it will be outrageous. You'll see some celebrations you have never seen before.

"The first day I put on the green shirt was the biggest achievement, but this would be bigger, especially if I score a goal as well because every time I put on a green jersey I enjoy it, it just feels good, you're getting another cap for your country so it feels good and I enjoy it and the fans are brilliant.

"I didn't know how people were going to take to me but they took to me well here and all I can repay them is by playing well and keep scoring goals. It would be my dream to start on Saturday but it is totally up to the manager."

Had he learned the words of the anthem, he was asked, "You'll see me singing it, just watch me, but I'm not going to sing it now though."

He was joking, of course, but Clinton Morrison is the type of guy who just might have sung it, had he been given any encouragement. That is, if he knew the words.

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