Mayo’s iron man is my number six
THOSE who remember him won’t take issue, surely, with my choice of John Morley as the outstanding centre-half back of the past five decades.
Time can play tricks with the memory. Some stars of the past might glow brighter in reminiscence than they had been in reality, legends looming larger than the facts.
The John Morley recollection is no illusion, however. He was one of 69 players to man the centre-back berth. For thirteen years from 1961 he wore the Mayo colours with distinction, sometimes at midfield where he was no less impressive.
Others run him close for the honour. The man just retired from the inter-county scene, James Nallen, outlasted Morley by two years, and with 132 appearances was the longest serving player in the history of football in the county, lining out in almost all of those games at centre-half back.
Johnny Farragher from Claremorris shone in that position, sinewy and fiercely determined. Anthony Egan, the gritty Tom Kearney, John Maughan, Con Moynihan, Johnny Carey, T.J. Farragher, Adrian Garvey, Frank Burns and the unstinting Pat Holmes spent some time there.
T.J. Kilgallon, back after injury, was given the pivotal role in the 1989 All-Ireland final. Willie Joe Padden had a short stint there; Galway man Tomas Tierney occupied the position for a short time, and David Heaney played some of his best football at centre-back, most notably against no less a man than Padraic Joyce of Galway.
And yet Morley, as one of that celebrated group, is incomparable. Strong, an elegant fielder, and an inspirational leader, he never gave less than a hundred percent in any of his 113 appearances.
Less than two weeks before Mayo’s All-Ireland semi-final of 1967, Morley had his appendix removed. And he was sorely missed. Against medical advice he played for a short while in the second half, but Mayo lost. Your scribe was then writing for the Connaught Telegraph, and the one-word banner headline on the match report of their defeat summed up Mayo’s disappointment: ‘Demorleyised’, it read.
Morley’s sportsmanship was eloquently portrayed in an article written by the great Dermot Earley about his memorable visits to McHale Park: “ . . . the tension was fierce and at some time in the first half John Morley and I tripped over together. My laces were entangled in his studs. Sitting for a few seconds beside one another in the middle of the park . . . play at the other end . . . boots freed . . . a laugh . . . a pat on the back . . . back into the fray.
“John Morley was a great player. His second half display against Galway in McHale Park in a Connacht final around 1973 is a special memory, too.”
John Morley, a member of the Garda Siochana, was murdered in July 1980 by bank raiders he was pursuing at Shannon’s Cross in Roscommon with the same unfaltering courage he had always displayed on the field of play.
NEXT WEEK LEFT-HALF BACK
Was that all Cork have got?
The league final will be different
YOU could almost hear the groans in Omagh when news of Mayo’s win over Cork reached Dublin devotees. Their footballers had done to Tyrone what they had expected Cork to do to Mayo.
But Mayo spoiled their plans . . . if not also the preferred choice of Croke Park officials. Dublin fills their coffers like no other. The revenue lost by Dublin’s absence from the final is probably of greater significance to the administrators that the rarity of a Mayo/Cork decider.
Conor Counihan will shoulder most of the blame. Dublin folk will make no secret of their disgust at the half score of changes the Cork manager made for Sunday’s tie. Having already qualified for the final, no team manager would risk fielding his best possible side in a game of little consequence. Such reasoning will find no echo in Dublin hearts, of course.
How Mayo view it is another matter. To be sure Cork’s was an experimental side. Some selections were old experienced hands returning from injury and given an opportunity to have Counihan run a rule over their readiness for first team selection.
But the manner in which the team in general lost interest in the final quarter, as Mayo surged ahead, left you wondering how hard were they really trying.
The two seemed evenly matched in the first half. But the sun alone did not generate the heat Mayo were feeling at half-time in Pairc Ui Chaoimh; ears were also red from news of the roasting of Tyrone in Omagh.
John O’Mahony rang the warning bells at the break. Only a win would lead Mayo back to Croke Park. The Dubs were nibbling their heels. Nothing else but the thought of being elbowed out by the team against which they kicked 18 wides could have spurred them so determinedly in the second half.
How convincing was the gap they created will be evident only in time. But it was substantial on Sunday, especially in the final quarter when Mayo forced the pace, and Cork could not keep up. If you had seen Mayo play Monaghan, you’ll know what I mean.
Was that that the best Cork could produce? That’s the big question. Did they take the foot off the pedal? Maybe not! You would expect the replacements to have been fighting for first-team recognition. On the evidence of this performance, though, the best Cork team was sitting it out.
Tremors of Tyrone’s defeat will have been felt all over the country, but Dublin’s rekindled fire was doused by Mayo, a disappointment that leaves the Dubs wondering whether their final performance of the league was their true form.
Joe does some ball hopping
BEWARE of Greeks bearing gifts! Mike Finnerty’s illuminating interview with Joe Kernan in last week’s issue bore all the signs of a man determined to massage the Mayo psyche into complacency as they prepare for the championship.
If the Galway manager were speaking from a neutral stance rather than with one eye on the possibility of the two counties clashing in the Connacht semi-final next June, more credence might be given to his experienced viewpoint.
He says the teams that have impressed him so far this season are Kerry, Tyrone and Mayo. “Mayo are athletic and dangerous when they have the ball. And they’re playing well.”
While Mayo were topping the table on Sunday, Kerry and Tyrone were, however, fighting relegation, and while his comments on Mayo’s league run might have been true, no one will be unaware of the trap Joe is endeavouring to lay.
The league final is Mayo’s bonus for hard work, and in the face of Galway’s defeat by a Derry side, which had been already doomed to relegation, further efforts to inculcate in Mayo a false sense of championship security are understandable.
Genuine Mayo followers will not be fooled, however. Sligo, lurking in the long grass, is the deterrent.
Just a thought...
Sligo’s promotion to Division 2 is a marvellous shot in the arm as they prepare to host Mayo in the championship. Having accounted for Roscommon, they’ll fear no one now in Connacht.