Billy Morgan questions the hold county managers have over young players
Cork college having such a beneficial influence on the county’s great rival Kerry
Billy Morgan at the Sigerson Cup final between St Mary’s and UCC in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. He is a passionate believer in the Sigerson Cup as a pathway to county teams. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Fresh from his latest Sigerson Cup success on Wednesday evening, UCC coach Billy Morgan has questioned the hold that intercounty managers have over young players.
Now 74, the former Cork All-Ireland winning captain and manager celebrated a third Sigerson success as coach with a final victory over St Mary’s Belfast, to go with two as a player in 1965 and 1966.
“With the leagues starting in January the counties are looking for their players. I do think that intercounty managers effectively taking possession of players for six months means that clubs don’t see them, and no one sees them, and if they’re not on the team they’re not getting games.
“I think the calendar could be a little more helpful, and county managers a little more understanding of how their players develop by playing Sigerson. Having said that, I do think that Cork and Kerry [bulk suppliers to UCC] were not too bad this year. They helped out where they could.”
Nonetheless, he says that Sigerson teams now rarely if ever have county players available for training, and have to be content with them being available for matches.
“There are no set training dates. With players doing different subjects and having different lecture and assignment schedules, you have to organise by the week as best you can.”
A passionate believer in the Sigerson as a pathway to county teams, he has always acknowledged the irony of the Cork college having such a beneficial influence on the county’s great rival Kerry.
Having coached his first success in the competition in 2011, Morgan made the point: “I’m sure you’ll hear of a lot of these players in the future – for Cork and unfortunately a good few of them for Kerry!”
Frustratingly for him, whereas a number of the Kerry players from that year and the 2014 success – Peter Crowley, Johnny Buckley, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney – did indeed kick on and win All-Ireland medals, all starting the 2014 final against Donegal, the Cork players didn’t have the same success even allowing for the dramatically divergent trajectory of the counties’ fortunes.
“Those 2011 and 2014 teams had Eoin O’Mahony from Macroom at full back, who held Michael Murphy scoreless after he moved in to full forward (2011 quarter-final against DCU). Seán Kiely was outstanding in UCC and a very good under-age player and he didn’t really get a run either.
“We’d an all-Cork midfield of Will Kennedy and James Fitzpatrick; you’d Kevin O’Driscoll, Mark Collins and Barry O’Driscoll in the forwards.
“I felt that Cork didn’t persist with them. Eoin O’Mahony got a game or two and was dropped after that whereas Kerry did persist. Take Stephen O’Brien. He always had great pace, but anyone looking at the team would probably have said that Stephen would be the last to make it at intercounty but he did and has been a very good player for Kerry.”
The Kerry influence has always been strong within UCC going back over the 100-years-plus history of the competition.
“It has,” says Morgan. “Going back to the 1950s you had Jim Brosnan and Paudie Sheehy who won Sigersons. In my own time it was Dave Geaney who introduced me to Sigerson. He was the leading Gaelic football man in UCC at the time.”
As Croke Park attempts to address the fixtures overload at this time of the year, Morgan feels that there isn’t sufficient support for the third-level competitions.
“You get the impression in some quarters that it’s a nuisance, but I don’t think that intercounty managers should have such a hold on players.”