Billy Morgan: 'The main thing was to get an intense focus and never take your eye off the ball.'

The former great goalkeeper identified Kerry pair, Mikey Sheehy, who had all the skills, and the late John Egan, as two of the most dangerous forwards he had to face
Billy Morgan: 'The main thing was to get an intense focus and never take your eye off the ball.'

Billy Morgan and the late Jim Cremin share Nemo Rangers' joy after winning the the 2003 All-Ireland club final at Croke Park.

THE enduring appeal of the legendary Billy Morgan became apparent again recently during the county board’s webinar on goalkeepers’ development pathway.

Viewers of all ages were interested in hearing from the Cork and Nemo Rangers great about certain aspects of the position and his illustrious career.

“There were a lot of questions directed at Billy, so we decided to get him back for the second session as well,” said Alan Quirke at the outset.

“There were two common themes with the questions and they were about his own preparation for big games as a player, dealing with nerves and all that kind of stuff.

“And the second part concerned the most difficult forwards Billy had faced during his time career either with Nemo Rangers or Cork.”

Those of an older generation will recall Sean O’Neill from Down as one of the best forwards of all time, talented enough to win three All-Irelands and make the best 15 of the century and the millennium.

He introduced himself to a young Morgan and left a lasting impression in the process.

“My first Sigerson Cup game with UCC was against Queens in Belfast,” he said.

“O’Neill normally played right half-forward with Down, but he was full-forward this day.

“Unfortunately, he was a revelation because they scored three goals. Sean scored one himself and laid on the other two.

“The goal he scored left me mesmerised because he collected the ball and shot in the same movement.”

Other dangerous forwards included Kerry pair, Mikey Sheehy and John Egan as well as Dublin’s Jimmy Keaveney.

“Mikey had all the skills, including lobbing a goalkeeper in one game. It wasn’t me, thank God.

“Egan was definitely an unsung hero in Kerry because he scored all the important goals in big games.

“Locally, three ’Barr’s forwards, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Eamonn Fitzpatrick and the late Gerry McCarthy, as well as Ray Cummins from St Michael’s, stood out among a lot of others.

“I remember a county semi-final against the ’Barr’s up the ’Dyke and we were eight points up with 10 minutes to go.

“Fitzy, who captained Cork to an All-Ireland minor title, turned it on and as far as I can recall he scored the equalising goal.”

Concentration and focus were some of the key points Morgan stressed.

“I wouldn’t drink at least three weeks before a game and I felt if I wasn’t nervous before a game I wasn’t up for it.

“I used to be nervous, but once the ball was thrown in, the nerves went.

“The main thing was to get an intense focus and never take your eye off the ball, no matter where it was. It was important to stay in the game mentally.”

Back in the day keepers were left to their own devices. “In my time there was no such thing as a goalkeeping coach, you just trained with the rest of the team.

“That usually involved a warm-up, sprints, a game between backs and forwards which helped you as a keeper to get to work with your full-back and the defenders in general.

“In addition I’d get a forward running at me from different positions so that I could get my angles right.

“I did some gym work, too, generally squats to improve my leg strength.

“I did most of the goalkeeping training usually with Donie Wallace (a former League of Ireland soccer great), who helped me during sessions.

“Ger Cunningham trained with me as well and we’d be banging balls at one another.

“We also did hurling training and that was also beneficial because the ball was coming at you much quicker and helped your reactions.

“I also used train on my own, striking a ball off a wall onto an uneven surface and generally I tried to look after every aspect like shot stopping and, handling.

“You mightn’t believe this but one aspect I found was very worthwhile was simply bouncing a ball off a hard surface.

“It was just continuously bouncing, bouncing with the ball coming back to you at pace and it meant having to get your hands in the right position and body behind the ball.”

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