AYRSHIRE, home of Robbie Burns, a clutch of British Open golf courses and the Ailsa Craig, provided an unlikely backdrop for the Pat Morley comeback story.AYRSHIRE, home of Robbie Burns, a clutch of British Open golf courses and the Ailsa Craig, provided an unlikely backdrop for the Pat Morley comeback story.
The most acclaimed striker in the business, a massive drawing card for tonight's St Pat's v Cork City Premier Division blockbuster at Richmond Park (7.35), had made up his mind to quit the game when he travelled to Scotland with Shelbourne for their UEFA Cup tie against Kilmarnock in August '97.
He felt he'd wasted five months waiting for a nagging knee injury to sort itself out. It hadn't. He sensed the cruciate was gone, an operation was needed and lengthy rehab would follow. He'd be past 33 on his return; too old to start all over again.
But the lure of the sport would prove too strong to resist. As he joined in the warm-up games in Troon, slammed in a few goals, his ear was bent by the Reds' medical team. Physio Alan Kinsella and doctor Alan Byrne insisted Morley should go under the surgeon's knife and take the comeback trail.
Fiercely proud, Morley's worst fear was that he'd return a shadow of the player he had been. No longer the supreme penalty box assassin, instead a broken down has-been who should have got out at the top.
He had, after all, notched up over a century of League goals, won a League medal with Cork City (1993), played in the FAI Cup final (1992) and in Europe. What had he got left to prove?
With business and family commitments, Morley's life was at a crossroads. The lights were on flashing amber. He pressed his foot to the floor and went for broke. Two years ago, this month, he had an operation to repair his wounded knee and hasn't looked back in anger since.
``It took a long time to get back to full fitness, a lot of sweat and effort, but it's been worth it. If I hadn't gone to Scotland with Shels and listened to the lads, I'd have stopped playing for sure,'' he said.
If November '97 was a red-letter month for Morley, November '98 was another as he returned home to play for Cork City, the club he'd left in the Summer of '96 after seven glorious seasons.
``It was the final piece in the jigsaw if you like. I didn't want to leave Shels as the club had been brilliant when I was injured while the goal I scored for Shels against Rangers in the UEFA Cup was a personal highlight,'' said Morley.
``But Cork is my home town, City the club that means so much to me and, when Shels and Cork agreed a deal, I didn't think twice about going back.
``It was hard at first. The fans gave me a bit of stick, which was understandable as I wasn't fit and couldn't do myself justice.''
Seven goals in the second half of last season signalled that Morley was on the way back. This season, he's been irrepressible. Eleven goals in 14 games, `Skippy' Morley has hopped past Donal Leahy to become the third highest scorer in League history and is chasing his City record of 20 for a season set in '93.
His career tally of 163 goals only Turlough O'Connor (178) and Brendan Bradley (235) have more is all the more remarkable when one considers he spent a year playing for Sydney side Sunshine George Cross and then missed 18 months due to that knee injury.
A runaway winner of the Player of the Month award for October, if he scores the winner tonight he'll be odds-on to collect again.
Morley is quick to point out that any kudos which come his way would not be possible without his seasoned shotgun partner, John Caulfield, a year older at 35.
``Playing beside `Johnny C' makes all the difference. I wouldn't score half the goals if he wasn't there. We first played together ten years ago so we know a bit about one another by now,'' he said.
It was back in November '84 that Morley, then 19, scored a hat-trick on his League debut, for Waterford, and the same month, five years later, when Morley made his City debut. By coincidence, he had his major knee op and then re-signed for Cork City in November, too.
If the monthly theme continues, back Morley to inflict pain on the Saints tonight.