Billy Morgan was the guest of honour at the 2016 Westlodge Carbery All-Star Awards
and TOM LYONS took the opportunity to get his views on the state of football in Cork
TO most football supporters in Cork, Billy Morgan is the living symbol of Cork football for the past half century.
As a player, a peerless goalkeeper, he captained the Cork team of 1973 that brought the Sam Maguire Cup back to Cork for the first time since 1945. Even at that stage he was coaching the new Nemo Rangers team that was to dominate Cork football and he was to become synonymous with the Nemo club.
Morgan’s ambition always was to coach the Cork senior football team and this he did with huge success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, winning successive All-Ireland titles in 1989 and 1990, as well as an unprecedented four Munster titles in a row, 1987-1990. Beating the great enemy from across the county bounds was his abiding ambition.
His battles to drag Cork football into the limelight here in Cork often resulted in clashes with officialdom and he was involved in some memorable controversies down the years. His great love for Cork football and his driving ambition for success endeared him to Cork football fans and he now commands a respected and honoured place in the history of football in the county.
Now well into retirement, he still coaches, with UCC and Nemo Rangers, and is still open to an invitation from Cork officials to get involved on the Cork scene again. He is bitterly disappointed with Cork’s fall from the top table in recent seasons but feels the young talent is definitely available to climb back to the top. He will never rest easy until Cork football is back at the top table again.
Tom Lyons (TL): What are your views on the type of football being played today?
Billy Morgan (BM): I don’t really enjoy it, to be honest. Watching it isn’t easy compared to the football in our day, good long, accurate kicking, much more direct play. I can understand what the game is all about now though, and I tell my teams to keep possession, pass it around, don’t give the ball away.
There’s much more hand-passing in the game now rather than kicking, which is a pity, as the art of good kicking is being lost. A few years ago they tried an experiment in the league where you had to kick after so many hand passes and I thought it worked well, but they didn’t pursue it afterwards.
TL: What do you think of the ‘mark’ that will be introduced next season?
BM: The new mark is actually being used in third level leagues at present and it’s not making any difference. Gaelic players don’t stop when they win possession and they forget about the ‘mark.’ I would agree with it where a player fields a high ball in a bunch of players and when he lands he gets a free play. But at the moment it doesn’t seem to be making any difference in third level games.
TL: What do you think of the standard of football in our county championships, with our county representatives being knocked out of Munster by Waterford and Limerick teams?
BM: Last year Nemo’s defeat was a freak, a goal in the last minute, but I was disappointed for Carbery Rangers, and for Cork football, that they didn’t get over The Nire in the semi-final this year. They may have underestimated them and John O’Rourke was a big loss. I was looking forward to Rangers meeting Dr Crokes in the Munster final and it would have given us an idea where we stand.
I feel that in this year’s senior championship the best four teams were in the semi-finals. The two top divisions, Duhallow and Avondhu, were also in the closing stages, although I was surprised Carbery didn’t fare better. The standard seemed to be rising this season and that’s why I’m so disappointed Carbery Rangers didn’t make the Munster final, to see exactly where our standards are.
TL: What do you think of the two intermediate grades in Cork club football?
BM: I don’t think it’s working. What you have is the Cork junior champions meeting the Kerry junior champions and we’re actually a grade lower than them.
I still believe you should have a strong junior grade in the county, it has always been a great championship. When our junior winners went out into Munster, they were on an even playing field with other counties, now they’re a grade lower. Bandon, as intermediate champions, weren’t allowed to play in Munster and that can’t be right.
TL: Moving on to the inter-county scene, what are your views on the present state of Cork football?
BM: Very disappointing. Two years ago we should definitely have beaten Kerry in Killarney, the penalty that shouldn’t have been a penalty, and the replay wasn’t too bad either but playing Kildare within six days proved just too much.
This year, however, was extremely disappointing. I could give reasons but shouldn’t be saying it in public. I do think that Cork should bring in an outside coach if they feel there’s nobody in the county up to the task.
Last year there were three candidates for the job of manager. Ephie Fitzgerald had the best track record and Ronan McCarthy has been through the mill and won the county with Carbery Rangers this season. I thought they were two very credible candidates but they weren’t wanted and Peadar Healy seemed to be parachuted in at the last minute. That wasn’t fair on him either.
When I see Mayo coming within a whisker of winning the All-Ireland, there’s no reason Cork shouldn’t be there. There was nothing between Cork and Mayo for years but we seem to have slipped back badly now. We’ve slipped back into Division 2 of the league, which mightn’t be the worst thing in the world as we might get back to winning ways again.
TL: As a mentor with UCC, you see many young players coming through. Is the young talent available to restore Cork football to the top?
BM: Over the past few years we’ve had a fair bit of success in UCC and we’ve produced good players. Seven UCC players won an All-Ireland with Kerry two years ago and a lot of them wouldn’t be superior to our own Cork lads.
I feel Cork didn’t persist with these young players, Sean Kiely of Macroom being a case in point. I think they should have persevered with them. Luke Connolly this year, outstanding in the last two Sigersons and on the Cork team but then completely dropped from the panel of 26 for the Donegal game. Luke does things in a game that will frustrate you but he’s a great player. There was no logic in dropping him.
At the moment Brian O’Driscoll has the potential to be an outstanding player, if handled properly. David Harrington from Adrigole was very good for us and he’s dropped off the scene although he did play junior this year.
Ian Maguire has come through and Alan O’Donovan is playing very well. Sean White, Clonakilty, was very good at U21 and he will be a big player for us this season in the Sigerson. Stephen Cronin is there already.
The young players have to be there. Cork have dominated the Munster U21 for the past 12 years, with Kerry and Tipp winning only a couple, so the young players must be available in Cork. However, unless we revise a lot of what we are doing, I can’t see Cork winning the All-Ireland in the immediate future, which is heartbreaking really.
TL: What contribution do you see yourself making to Cork football at present and in the future? Do you get the urge to go back?
BM: I’ve never been asked. I would do anything for Cork football and if they needed me to help out in any way, I would. But I haven’t been asked.
I’m still enjoying my football with UCC and the Nemo intermediate team. There’s no pressure with Nemo and with UCC there are new lads coming in every year and I love coaching. When I came back from Strawberry Hill in 1971 I became player/coach with Nemo and have been at it since, about 45 years I suppose. I never get bored with it.
TL: Down the years you got a bit of a reputation as a rebel as regards the Cork County Board – is that why you haven’t been asked again?
BM: I don’t care what people say, football has always been the poor relation in Cork, still is. You had to fight battles all the time and I make no apology for that.
Our ambition when playing with Cork was to win. We had great teams and great underage talent in the late sixties and seventies and we reached an All-Ireland final in 1967 and won it in 1973.
I wanted to coach the Cork football team. My ambition always was to put Cork football on a pedestal, to fight for the All-Ireland every year. We were doing that, right up to a couple of years ago. For six or seven years in the noughties we were in every semi-final but now it’s slipped way back. I would always live in hope, there are some great young players out there. There must be a future with them.
Hopefully, we’ll see the Sam Maguire in Cork again in our life-time but it will take a lot of changes and a lot of hard work. Surely, Cork football is worth that effort? I’m always available to give a hand.