Pioneering Gaelic football coach John Morrison dies

Armagh man’s genial personality was always directed at banishing negativity

John Morrison pictured in June 2005 when he was coaching Derry. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Inpho

John Morrison pictured in June 2005 when he was coaching Derry. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Inpho

 

The sheer geographical breadth of the tributes being paid to John Morrison, whose death was announced on Tuesday, tells its own tale about his widespread influence as a coach.

Although he was involved with management in a number of counties, often with Derry-based manager Mickey Moran, the Armagh man’s most abiding legacy will be as a pioneering coach of football players.

There’s hardly a county where he didn’t spread his gospel in tutorials and at games development conferences.

As manager of Antrim, he put them through their paces to the accompaniment of house music. He also famously used balloons to train centrefielders and the force of his genial personality was always directed at banishing negativity in individual players and teams.

His high point as an intercounty coach was helping Moran guide Mayo to the 2006 All-Ireland final, beating Dublin in the semi-final, where they were outplayed by a Kerry team that was simply better. He also worked with Derry, Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan and Armagh.

Yet there are so many stories of how he helped individuals to improve their game through personal tuition. One of those was Armagh’s Paul McGrane, All-Ireland winner and All Star.

Speaking to Keith Duggan in these pages in 2005, John Morrison explained his advice.

“The two things that needed changing were the position of his feet when he jumped into the catch and the trajectory of his arms when he met the ball. It used to be that his feet trailed, whereas now he jumps knee raised and his hands are in front of his face instead of straining behind his head.

“The reason for the balloons was that they just hang up there and they gave him a chance to get his radar right. With anything like that, you have to be really willing in order to break down your game and reconstruct it. Paul wanted to know what he could do. I told him I would have him hanging up in the air. And he worked at it. Then one evening after a club game, I think it was, he rang me delighted and said, ‘John, I was hanging tonight’.”

He influenced many readers with his coaching books and manuals as well as up until recently a column in Gaelic Life.

More than 10 years ago, he was telling anyone who would listen that Dublin were now taking games development so seriously that it would be only a matter of time before the county again became successful.

He was a lifelong member of Armagh Harps.

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