The Leeside legends series: Billy Morgan succeeded at every level of football

The Leeside legends series: Billy Morgan succeeded at every level of football
Cork manager Billy Morgan celebrates victory at the final whistle in the 2006 Munster final replay against Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

THE name of Billy Morgan will always be remembered as a player and manager who gave unstinting service to his beloved club Nemo Rangers and also to his native Cork.

Cork manager Billy Morgan ahead of the 1995 All-Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Cork manager Billy Morgan ahead of the 1995 All-Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Billy was born in 1945 and reared in High Street took up football while attending Coláiste Chríost Rí.

At schools level, he helped Críost Rí win the 1961-62 Frewen Cup and a year later they won the Cork Senior Colleges Championship.

Morgan joined Nemo Rangers as an 11-year-old and played in the local Street leagues where he showed skills that came under close scrutiny.

Billy tasted success with the U15 football team when they won the Dr Lucey Shield but surprisingly at school, he much preferred playing hurling.

Morgan moved into the Senior ranks with Nemo and could never have imagined beyond his wildest dreams the success that the club would get in the following three decades.

Billy took over as coach in 1971 and Nemo went on to win the 1972, 74, 75, 77, 78, 81, 87, 88 Cork Senior football championships.

“Winning my first county football championship against UCC in 1972 was very special but little did I think that I would end up winning eight Cork Senior football championships during my career,” said Billy.

Cork goalkeeper Billy Morgan saves during the 1973 All-Ireland final win over Galway.
Cork goalkeeper Billy Morgan saves during the 1973 All-Ireland final win over Galway.

Nemo were also very successful in the All-Ireland club championship and Morgan can boast four in total as a player and coach.

A lot of clubs would have been shattered if they had lost successive finals in the All-Ireland club championship but Nemo after going down to Crossmolina in 2001 and Ballinderry in 2002 bounced back to win in 2003.

Crossmolina from Mayo were once again their opponents but on this occasion, Nemo showed their determination and class to win an epic final.

“I never realised how good this final really was until I looked at the video about a fortnight after the game.

“By God was I proud of my players after this game because they showed their true mettle when the game was going against them and it was a really special day for Cork football.”

Despite Billy beginning his football career as a centre-forward with the Cork minor team of 1963, it was playing between the sticks as goalkeeper where he was regarded as one of the best produced on Leeside over the last century.

During the '70s Morgan has great men in front of him like Humphrey Kelleher and Kevin Kehilly.

Kelleher died after a short illness in 2005 at the age of 59 that saddened Billy after a long friendship with the Millstreet man.

Kick-outs were always a speciality for Billy especially when he had the electric Bantry player Declan Barron to pull the ball out of the air.

Former Cork football manager Billy Morgan, lining out for Kerry, at the Alan Kerins GAA Challenge, at Croke Park. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Former Cork football manager Billy Morgan, lining out for Kerry, at the Alan Kerins GAA Challenge, at Croke Park. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

What difference does Billy find in the game from his playing days?

“It’s a much faster game as teams now also tend to hold the ball with more passing but in my time there was a lot more kicking done with the ball as teams do not like giving away possession nowadays.”

Morgan cited another negative within the game.

“There is too much pulling and dragging and to me, referees and linesmen should be doing more to protect the players.”

Billy looks back with fond memories of players like Sean O’Neill of Down and the Kerry duo of Mick O’Connell and Mikie Sheehy all men who oozed with talent and class on the football pitch.

Cork has been relatively starved of All-Ireland football success over the last 70 years, though thanks to Morgan the Rebels enjoyed an incredible period from the mid-80s to mid-90s with him as manager. 

They reached four All-Ireland finals, winning two, and captured seven Munsters in a nine-year period. He then returned to the helm from 2004 to 2007, adding another Munster and getting Cork back to the All-Ireland final.

Morgan has been there and done that as far as football is concerned.

Billy Morgan in goal for Cork in 1982. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Billy Morgan in goal for Cork in 1982. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

From captaining his county to winning the 1973 All-Ireland football final to receive an All-Star in the same year.

In recent years his managerial skills are still very much evident in the manner he has guided UCC and he is now back again among the coaching staff of the Nemo side that won the Cork County championship last season. Billy Morgan’s record and contribution has done football and Cork proud.

Cork manager Billy Morgan urges on his side against Meath in the 1990 All-Ireland football final. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Cork manager Billy Morgan urges on his side against Meath in the 1990 All-Ireland football final. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

FACTFILE:

Billy Morgan began playing football at the age of 11 with Nemo Rangers and is now in his 64th year with the club.

He captained Cork to win the 1973 All-Ireland football final against Galway.

Billy has won eight Cork Senior football championships and three All-Ireland Senior club medals.

He is rated the greatest goalkeeper that Cork has produced in the last century.

Morgan is the coach of UCC and has led them to three successes of the six Sigerson Cup finals they reached the last success coming in 2019.

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