ON THE LINE Mayo manager Mickey Moran (right) and his assistant John Morrison are pictured before the start of the 2006 All-Ireland SFC Final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
I WAS shocked and saddened to hear of John Morrison’s passing last week at the relatively young age of 69. He had so much more to give to his family and to Gaelic football.
Austin O’Malley and I were reminiscing a little the other day about our time working with John, who coached us with Mayo when he worked as Mickey Moran’s right-hand man back in 2006.
Austin reminded me about the Bob Marley-style cardigan that John used to wear into training back then — the sight of it alone would put a smile on your face!
Of course, so many Mayo people will always remember John for his ‘face off’ with Pillar Caffrey when we went down to Hill 16 before the All-Ireland semi-final that year.
The fact that John responded to that shoulder from Caffrey with a big smile was a mark of the man.
John was an excellent coach in terms of how he used to put together a training session. We all used to enjoy going into the dressing-room and looking up at the noticeboard to see what he had planned for us that night.
It was a breath of fresh air to feel that sort of control over what you were about to do in the session.
And while John’s ways meant plenty of craic and a good atmosphere, there was also plenty of substance to everything he did.
I know of a lot of players, both in Mayo and Armagh, who benefitted from his one-on-one coaching, in terms of advice, encouragement and expertise.
As recently as last week, John sent a text to a friend of mine in Armagh, giving him some pointers on an area he was trying to improve on.
I often thought that there was too much made of John’s eccentric ways — like improving Paul McGrane’s fielding by throwing balloons at him! — but not enough credit given to his exceptional coaching abilities.
He was ahead of his time, a real innovator, who was always looking at ways of doings better when it came to coaching Gaelic football.
I wasn’t surprised to see the huge outpouring of emotion from so many people from right around the country last week.
John’s coaching, and the style of it, touched so many people over the years. And it impacted so positively on so many people’s careers in so many different ways.
He probably wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, because he was unorthodox and he was an eccentric character. But at the same time, I think if you were open-minded about what he was trying to teach you, there was a very good chance you’d be a better player and a better person as a result.
He didn’t take things too seriously, but he was serious about improving you as a player, and he was convinced that you could do that with a smile on your face.
I used to bump into John a lot at games in Newry and Armagh. I loved meeting him, and talking football with him.
For the record, like the rest of the Mayo squad, I did get a Valentine’s card from John on February 14, 2006.
I only wish I’d kept it.
Because I’ll always be thankful to him and to Mickey Moran for all they did for me during that memorable season with Mayo.