From taking the Gooch's seat to claiming his own - Tadhg Morley's rise from Division Five to Kerry
Kingdom have unearthed a rugged gem from junior ranks for centre-back role
THE first day Tadhg Morley stepped into a Kerry senior dressing-room, he managed to sit in Colm Cooper’s seat.
"He didn’t say anything, Gooch’d be too nice,” Morley confirms, just a year on from his faux pas but having become a fixture in that same room and with his very own seat, too.
“But the couple of training sessions afterwards, I noticed he was sitting there and I thought ‘Christ, I was sat in his seat the first day!’
“But no, it is a culture shock.”
Unsurprisingly, Morley has come a considerable distance to be Kerry’s established number six.
Proudly, he announces: “I won a Novice Shield,” and not by way of a boast but instead, to illustrate the journey travelled.
In Kerry, the Novice Shield is the fourth grade of club football, akin to a Junior ‘B’ Championship in Dublin.
“I won a Novice Shield. I won a Novice Championship. A Junior Championship. And we’re trying to win a Premier Intermediate now,” he says, by way of charting Templenoe’s spectacular recent uprising.
The club that spawned Mick, Tom and most famously Pat Spillane, didn’t have a Kerry senior panel member from the end of the county’s ‘Golden Years’ until Morley was called up in 2016.
His performances in bringing the club to Croke Park and an All-Ireland Junior title were too difficult for Éamonn Fitzmaurice to ignore.
“When we won that All-Ireland that time, it really struck home how amazing it was,” Morley, who lived and taught in Dublin for five years until moving home recently, recalls.
“Listening to those people talk about it, we were just delighted.
“We were happy-out. We were having our few drinks afterwards with the lads but there were a few men getting emotional talking to me about it.
“And that really struck me how important it was to people and how important it was to the club.
“They had seen the club struggling at the bottom of Division 5, struggling to win games and struggling to field teams.”
Both he and Gavin Crowley (the man Diarmuid Connolly unceremoniously hauled down in the League final to earn a black card) were promoted to the senior squad off the back of that run, although it wasn’t as though Fitzmaurice was starved of defenders.
Over the past four years as era-defining backs like Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé have faded from view, players like Jack Sherwood, Pa Kilkenny, Ronan Shanahan and Brían Ó Beaglaoich have all been given a chance with Kerry but none cracked Fitzmaurice’s starting defence permanently.
Others, like Jason Foley and Tom O’Sullivan, are expected to break through in the short term but Morley, despite having none of the many underage medals most of the aforementioned possess, cut it quickly and decisively.
His inherent physical attributes; scampering pace and brawny strength, would seem the logical answer as to why.
Although his attitude is rare, too. Morley is, he confesses, very much a disciple of the “getting stuck in,” method of defending.
“Arragh yeah, I wouldn’t shy away from it, like,” he confirms.
“I suppose, as I said, I played Division 5 football in Kerry. You have to be able to get stuck in down there.
“Look, I just do whatever I’m told. If Éamonn tells me to get stuck in, I’ll get stuck in. Nowadays, defenders have a bit more of an attacking license.
“I probably need to back myself a bit more in that respect too. But as a centre-back sometimes you can’t be leaving a gaping hole.
“But as a defender, I love the physical aspect of the games as well.”
He has, over the course of a spiky League match in Tralee in April and the final in Croke Park a month later, attracted praise for his out-in-front efforts on Ciarán Kilkenny, although he is insistent that the scale of the duel has been “blown out of proportion a small bit”.
“I was never told to go mark him or whatever. He was playing centre-forward. I was playing centre-back.
“That’s just the way it happened. I was marking him. He was marking me.
“But if Éamonn tells me to go and man-mark a fella, if he tells me to go play ball up the field or if he tells me to play corner-back, I’ll do whatever he tells me to do.”
Sunday will be his biggest test.
Morley could quite conceivably wind up marking Aidan O’Shea if - as he has done for most of summer - he is tasked with playing centre-back and picking up whichever Mayo player takes arms in the same position.
“They’re big and they’re strong. They’re strong runners, they’re strong around the middle.
“They’re strong everywhere, to be honest,” Morley notes.
“Aidan O’Shea, obviously, is their big, physical force.
“But I’m a big football fan. I watch all the games. So yeah, I’ve seen Mayo play those games that are TV. He (O’Shea) is having a tremendous year.
“Look, a lot of them are. Andy Moran is going from strength to strength in every game. Cillian O’Connor is shooting the lights out.
“Diarmuid, Kevin McLoughlin … you could keep naming them. Especially against Roscommon the last day. They’re flying.
“But we’d like to think we’re physical ourselves,” Morley concludes, “that we’ve come in that department this year.”
“We’d like to think we’d bring that as well,” concludes Morley.