Liverpool or Blackburn Rovers? That was the dilemma facing current Cork City midfielder Gearóid ‘Chops’ Morrissey back in 2008.
One might be forgiven for thinking that the 16-year-old was merely attempting to decide, if admittedly at a late age, between which cross-channel club to follow. But no, there was more, much more, at stake.
Morrissey, a talented Ringmahon Rangers schoolboy, had been attracting scouts from Britain eager for his signature. Blackburn and Liverpool were Premier League clubs that liked what they saw, and offered Morrissey a place in their academies. Apparently 90% of players from these academies fail to obtain a professional contract.
Nevertheless, many young Irish players today would eat your hand off for such a dilemma. Yet for Morrissey, the dilemma remained. How would he decide between these two clubs? Often, in situations like this, one is led by both the heart and by the head. Morrissey’s heart was leaning towards Liverpool but his head, conscious of the difficulties graduating to the first team in the Premier League’s top clubs, would probably choose Blackburn.
However he remained unsure. Then Blackburn threw a major carrot into the deal. They would move Morrissey’s family to Blackburn with him as a sweetener. Blackburn also offered him a guaranteed three-year professional contract when he turned 17. So he made the decision. Liverpool would have to wait.
So Morrissey and his family flew over and initially things went well.
“Myself and a few off the other youth players were moved from the academy buildings, on the bottom of the hill, to the reserve and first team set-up on the top of the hill,” he said.
“It was a little unusual as there were a few older teams ahead of us who didn’t get any players promoted. So things were going very well on the football side of things.”
However, Morrissey described homesickness as a major problem.
“My family were put up by the club, but they actually put them a good distance from the training ground, so I didn’t get to see them that much. I was pretty much living out of a suitcase, I wanted to get home so much.
“Sometimes when I arrived back at training, I didn’t want to unpack at all.”
Eventually Morrissey decided he had enough and returned at 18 to Cork, seemingly, at the end of his footballer journey. At this stage he seemed destined to join that secret group of Ireland’s lost players, those who leave these shores at 16 but come back a few years later damaged from the experience. Some never play the game again.
Morrissey thankfully decided to keep playing: “It might have been easy to turn off, to shy away from it. But my Dad and my family wouldn’t have left me. I knew that, and that kind of spurred me on. They were really behind me, no matter what.
“So I kept looking after myself and before I knew it I was playing with Cork City, and enjoying it again.”
This is where things eventually started to pick up again for Morrissey. The ‘phoenix from the ashes’ emergence of a new Cork City under FORAS allowed Morrissey an opportunity to train and play with his hometown team, who were in the First Division of the League of Ireland.
It was immediately clear to anyone involved in the club that Morrissey had more than enough ability to play, at the very least, at the top level of the game in Ireland. Tommy Dunne was equally impressed and effectively built a team around Morrissey that would bring the club back to the Premier Division in 2011.
Today, Morrissey is progressing even further. John Caulfield has been keen to bring out Morrissey’s more ruthless side. Morrissey has responded and is now one of the most effective as well as one of the most exciting players in the league.
Former player and current Cork City coach Billy Woods describes Morrissey as the player with “the best feet” he’s ever seen. Morrissey has been nicknamed ‘Chops’ by his fellow players in recognition of the chopping style he can move the ball from one direction to the opposite direction, and in doing so quite often losing an opponent. The footballing path of ‘Chops’ to date might just be the symbol of both what is wrong with Irish football and what is very right with the League of Ireland. But one thing is for sure, he’s now enjoying his football.
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