Billy Morgan: Still a winner at 74 years of age

Billy Morgan: Still a winner at 74 years of age
UCC manager Billy Morgan celebrates after the Electric Ireland HE GAA Sigerson Cup final. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

THERE was a video online shortly after the Sigerson Cup final of Billy Morgan going around to each player of his UCC side, a hug and that huge smile and a clap on the back for everybody, and the thought struck that we’d seen this image before. 

In fact, it could have been taken in the aftermath of any game from the 80s/90s/2000s with various Cork/Nemo/UCC teams that have been pulled along to victory by the relentlessness and complete footballing enthusiasm of Morgan, who basically looked as happy to be coaching winning football teams as he’s ever done. 

The few words afterwards caught the essence too, the motivation of football being the winner against what he perceived as a team not playing football the right way in St Mary’s, the history of the Skull and Crossbones, and it’s always easy to see in those moments just why generations of players have been inspired to give themselves for him. 

Last Monday night week we watched Alex Ferguson in the stands at Chelsea as the tradition and culture he built at Man Utd got carried on by a new younger man; there’s always been something in Ferguson that reminded of Billy Morgan, that same passion and conviction and ability to adapt and ability to influence whole groups of people over different eras. 

Yet Morgan is still on the pitch doing his thing for football at 74 years of age. He's still competing on the sideline against managers like Gavin McGilly in St Mary’s, a highly regarded coach who’s worked with Paddy Tally previously and currently is in his management team with Down, taking them on and winning by always finding new ways to play the game while retaining that same overall philosophy of attacking football. 

It was noticeable especially throughout the competition how UCC looked to attack spaces – the angles of kick-passing and support runs, the quick diagonal offloads that avoided carrying ball straight into contact, all developed to open up bodies of defensive lines. 

Padraig Lucey tries to get away from Liam Devlin. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Padraig Lucey tries to get away from Liam Devlin. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Morgan has thought his way around problems like this for decades and come out on top. Honestly, they should just build the statue now.

Other takeaways for football and Cork football in particular? 

By the way, there’s an idea that UCC is more a breeding ground for Kerry footballers than Cork ones and if this team has hardly put that argument to bed completely, there are a few points being missed here. 

Billy Morgan has complete respect for Kerry footballers, who he sees as proper footballers in some ways, and there’s something to be learnt for Cork in this. 

More than one Cork player and coach has mentioned the eyeopener they got in the difference in mentality and preparation when they got up close to the elite Kerry footballers and how they learnt just what needed to be done to get to that level. 

Still, there is bad news for Cork in the little matter of Seanie O'Shea's growing influence on big games. 

He wasn’t overly involved in general play here but popped up with seven points, five from frees (all crucial in a tight game, none of them gimmes) and it was his willingness to take responsibility with big plays and scores that stood out, especially taking on and nailing a tricky shot into the wind just after St Mary’s had drawn level heading into the last ten minutes. 

He’s more or less unerring from frees and simply will score from anywhere within range if given a small bit of space. 

He’s already given Cork a chasing last summer in the Munster final and there’s just this sense that if Kerry have struck gold with a once-in-a-generation talent like David Clifford coming along then there’s no telling the damage they might do with two of them at the same time. 

A decade of watching O'Shea lofting points from all angles down in Killarney looks likely.

And still, Cork do come away with improvements and advantages. 

St Mary's Aaron Boyle and Cian Kiely. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
St Mary's Aaron Boyle and Cian Kiely. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Cian Kiely’s development as a wing-back has been picked out by Tomás Ó Sé recently and he showed again here throughout the competition his ability to carry the ball at speed and distribute it with kick-passes into inside-forwards. 

He burst forward to kick a mighty score and there was a willingness to stand up and influence the game when it was there for the taking that suggested potential use for Cork under Ronan McCarthy. 

Mark White got more experience in elite level games for a young goalkeeper and if the St Mary’s goal suggested there is learning to be done in dealing with certain situations, well that’s how it should be for a goalkeeper at that age – you can add to the impressive column his ability to snap out of that kind of mistake and not let it affect his game. 

Most of all there were the kickouts, where he consistently found UCC players in spaces and as the game went on and St Mary’s pressed up in the last ten minutes, White still found the right areas to launch the ball into the wind, picking out overloads and patches where UCC had more numbers on the breaks. 

Kevin Flahive is breaking into the Cork set-up and again got exposure to defending against different systems and forwards here. 

Liam O’Donovan did his bit until that injury earlier in the competition. 

The knowledge banked here and the experience of winning playing positive football against other intercounty players can be stored. 

A coach like Kevin Murray (whose influence could be seen in patterns of support play especially) gained from working in that kind of environment. 

UCC win again with Billy Morgan on the sideline and all seems right with football.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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