GAA Football

Brendan Crossan: John 'Beefer' Morrison writing another glorious chapter from the grave

Patrick Morrison with Mickey Moran and the Andy Merrigan Cup
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room (brendancrossan@yahoo.com)

AMID the wonderful chaos of Kilcoo’s All-Ireland final victory the TV cameras glimpsed Patrick Morrison congratulating some of the players on the famous turf.

Until that moment, few people knew about Patrick’s involvement with the Magpies, dating back to the end of November.

This typified Mickey Moran’s quiet, understated approach.

It was three years to the day the legendary John Morrison left this world. Fate works in mysterious ways.

If ‘Beefer’ was alive today, he most certainly would have been at Mickey’s side last Saturday evening, two footballing evangelists happily dwarfed by the magnificence of Croke Park, sharing in their long-awaited All-Ireland glory, happier for each other more than themselves.

Together.

“Mickey was like the brother that Daddy never had,” Patrick said earlier this week.

During the ‘Noughties’, you never saw one without the other. Nobody did double acts quite like Mickey and John.

They were as affable as the day was long. And shrewd operators too.

I texted my congratulations to Patrick after Kilcoo’s fairytale win over Kilmacud Croke’s.

He immediately replied: “Three years to the day.”

He attached two photographs: one of his father’s pristine grave adorned in a Kilcoo flag; the other of Mickey and him with the Andy Merrigan Cup.

There was a heart-warming symmetry to the photograph of Mickey and Patrick in the Croke Park changing rooms with the cup.

If John couldn’t be there on the day of an All-Ireland victory - a Morrison representative would.

Patrick had been working as a goalkeeping coach down in Annaclone and it was Jamie Fegan – one of the players he was coaching – who got wind of Kilcoo needing someone to work with Niall ‘Bobo’ Kane.

Fegan told Kilcoo they wouldn’t get better than Patrick Morrison.

A couple of nights later, Mickey rang Patrick and was actually annoyed at himself for not thinking of his best friend’s son in the first place.

And so the Moran-Morrison axis was reformed.

Patrick only recently hung up his boots and had been applying for a couple of management jobs in Armagh. He got encouraging feedback but never quite landed any of them.

With a reflective eye, he feels his father had other plans for him: Kilcoo. With Mickey. And another shot at an All-Ireland.

Patrick was blown away by what he encountered at the Eoghan Rua club.

“I’ve never seen a club run like it,” he said. “They’d put county set-ups to shame. Put it this way, when people say Kilcoo won the All-Ireland, it’s not just the team - that whole community won it. Whatever that team needs, they get. And that community pulls together and gets it for them.”

Patrick loved every second up on the high ground of Kilcoo. Niall Kane, the team’s goalkeeper, already had the game.

“‘Bobo’ just needed re-assurance more than anything,” Patrick said.

‘Bobo’ himself might beg to differ over Patrick's contribution.

“There aren’t any words to describe what Patrick has done for us,” said Kilcoo's All-Ireland winning ‘keeper. “We will be forever grateful for how he helped us.”

Patrick Morrison is as decent a man as his father. It’s true some of Beefer’s eccentricities have been passed on to his son.

Around John’s first anniversary, I interviewed Patrick in a coffee shop in Camlough to explore the art of goalkeeping but also to remember and celebrate his father’s life.

The article was entitled the ‘Sculptor and I’ where Patrick regaled me with some of his father’s unique life philosophy.

“There’s an old saying about the sculptor and the piece of stone,” Patrick explained above the clatter of coffee cups.

“Everyone says to the sculptor that it was brilliant how he made that. And the sculptor says: ‘I didn’t do it at all – I just brushed away the hard edges.’

“The game is actually there – we’re just brushing off the rough edges. That’s the way I see it. And that’s listening to my Da for so long!”

Like the entire Morrison clan, you could tell Patrick missed his father’s presence terribly. During our conversation a couple of years ago he was able to convey the feeling of grief better than anyone I’ve known.

He drew two squares on a page in his notepad and a circle in each square – one large circle and a small one in the other - and explained the process, his process of coping with his father’s passing.

“[Looking at his notepad] You’ve a room with a massive pain button and a big ball in the room and no matter where the ball is moving it’s always hitting the button.

“[Pointing to the other square with the smaller ball] As time passes, the ball gets smaller, bounces around the room and doesn’t hit the button as much but when it does hit the button the pain is still the same, but it just hits the button less.”

John Morrison believed in Godsends, little signs that were perhaps insignificant to the casual observer but absolutely integral to outcomes.

Before a game down the country, Patrick recalls, John and Mickey were walking across the pitch. John spotted a two pence piece, he lifted it and said: ‘Mickey, we’re going to win today by two points.’

Mickey smiled at John’s whimsical ways. Of course, the team won the game by two points. He always said to Mickey that they should write a book together about their experiences in all the different places they'd coached together.

‘I’ve got the title of the book already, Mickey – The Travelling Gaels.’

Anniversaries can be desperately difficult days for families.

But perhaps this was ‘Beefer’ intervening again – bellowing from beneath the ground of brighter days.

Since last week, Patrick has been trying to rationalise everything in his own head.

For him, his father’s anniversary – February 12 – will no longer be mourned, but forever remembered as one of the happiest days because of what unfolded in Croke Park last Saturday evening when his old friend got down on his knees and kissed the holy ground.

“I was more ecstatic that the match was actually on Da’s anniversary rather than emotional,” Patrick said. “I was emotional when we won, just that sense of pride knowing that Daddy would have been over the moon for the two of us winning and doing it together.

“The way it worked out, I was going to help Mickey. It was sort of a realigning of Daddy and Mickey together again.”

Mickey Moran and John Morrison during their coaching days together

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