THE retirement of Gearoid Morrissey marks the end of an era for Cork City, a strange and wonderful time including a rebirth, serial contending for cups and titles and, if you know the history of the League of Ireland in this city, the inevitable struggle for survival.
Gearoid was there for it all, contributing hugely on the biggest nights and still manning the ramparts when the club’s fortunes waned in recent seasons. His departure is a tough loss but his place in the folklore secure.
As fitting an epitaph for a career as any.
Of course, for us members of the extended Morrissey clan, from McDonagh Road in Ballyphehane via The Marsh, him leaving the stage means even more.
Gearoid and I are first cousins and watching him make it with City, then win things with City and carrying himself all the while with such class, has filled us all with immense pride.
There is nothing like watching one of your own representing your home place in the way that he did for so long, so well.
My late mother’s family are steeped in soccer. Her father Tommy played for Cork United in the 1940s – indeed I was long ago given a heavy woollen jersey of his as an heirloom. Between then and now, we’ve togged out for clubs all over the city and county, generations of us.
And, along the way, some of us dreamed that childish dream that maybe we were talented enough to go all the way. Eventually we realised we weren’t. But Gearoid was.
When he first broke through, I used to laugh, thinking of all of us who came before him, all who didn’t quite have the right stuff.
Once or twice, I’d read about him or watch a highlight featuring him on social media and make a mental list of all the clubs his relatives have played for around Cork. It’s a long list.
Casement Celtic, Cork United, St Mary’s, Cobh Ramblers, Ballincollig, Kilreen Celtic, Western Rovers, Crofton Celtic, Glasheen, Wilton United, Courtown United, Dominic Rovers, Bishopstown United, UCC, Leeds, Passage (where a branch of the family were long a lifeblood of the club) Douglas Hall, Grange Vale.
I’m sure I missed a few and some of those clubs don’t even exist anymore but reeling off the names brought home to me how many decades members of the extended Morrissey family have played the game.
And, now, here, finally, one of us was out there playing League of Ireland with City.
There were other interludes in his career that brought us moments of peculiar joy too.
Back in 2015, I was in the middle of a lecture when my mobile phone buzzed.
Given how often I berate students for texting in class, I was loath to even acknowledge it was going off.
Then it went again. And again. So, assuming it might be some sort of emergency, I discretely flipped it out of my bag and onto the desk.
The urgent message was from my then 14-year-old son Abe. Nobody was in hospital. Nobody was in danger.
No, it was much more important than that.
The message was a video he’d taken from the television while watching Manchester United taking on Cambridge United in an FA Cup fourth-round replay. It showed Gearoid coming on as a substitute for Cambridge in the second half.
With the number 23 on his back, he was making his professional debut for the English club at Old Trafford.
What a moment for him. What a moment for his family. A boy from Mahon, one of the most put-upon suburbs in the city, at one of the great cathedrals of the world game.
I was standing on a campus in Long Island as I played and replayed the video but my thoughts were three thousand miles away with Gearoid’s parents, my Uncle Ger (one of the funniest men I’ve ever met) and his wife Marion.
Given how proud and moved I was by the sight of a first cousin taking the field, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for his mother and father to be watching on telly.
To be looking on as the little kid they first saw kick a ball with Ringmahon Rangers, his local club, was out there with some of the best players in the world in a game being watched all over the planet.
Another time, I remember watching on a laptop as he played for an Irish youths team in a European Championship against a Spanish side featuring Oriel Romeu and Alvaro Morata.
Why wouldn't it? The achievements of one Morrissey had Morrisseys all over Ballyphehane, Cork and Long Island, walking with our chests puffed out a little more than usual.
I hope somewhere in retirement he can appreciate what it meant to all of us to see all of him out there.