Sunday 17 November 2019

Morrison's warning to Donal Og: Being No 2 can be the hardest job in the world

Donal Og Cusack, Cork
Donal Og Cusack, Cork
John Morrison with Mickey Moran during their Leitrim reign back in 2009
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The covers had only been pulled over the 2015 season and, compared to recent years, there hadn't been much to mourn.

In both hurling and football it had been largely forgetable. Kilkenny paraded Liam MacCarthy around Croke Park to a stadium that had emptied alarmingly fast.

Then Dublin beat Kerry in a football final that wasn't in the same parish as the billing it was given.

Whatever the new year would hold, we just hoped it would be better than this one.

Then in an announcement on a dull Bank Holiday Monday, the 2016 season suddenly got interesting.

Down in Clare, Davy Fitzgerald had pulled out all the stops. Donal Og Cusack would be the county's new selector and coach as part of a new heavyweight backroom team.

Given that Clare had won just two competitive games in 2015, it was accepted that they would need significant change - but this caught everyone off guard.


The pair never were never close but in various dispatches over the last couple of years, it became clear they held a common view on how the modern game should be played.

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It represents a significant change for both men. Fitzgerald has to make room for another forceful character in his backroom.

Cusack has walked away from his various media commitments as well as his playing career with Cloyne. In sacrificing all they have, both men have made a statements of intent.

To have two big names in a set-up is an unusual development for the GAA. And even though Fitzgerald will remain in charge, the perception will be that the fortunes of Fitzgerald, Clare and Cusack are intertwined.

It's a bold step - especially given that similar double acts have had mixed results in the past.

In Armagh the two Brians, McAlinden and Canavan, laid the groundwork for a breakthrough All-Ireland success in 2002 but it's only a matter of weeks since the Mayo squad decided that they joint management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly wasn't up to the job.

In Kildare, Kieran McGeeney drafted in Jason Ryan, who would eventually replace him as manager.

Cork hurling had something similar when John Allen replaced Donal O'Grady but in that case, both men steered the Rebels to an All-Ireland title. O'Grady was part of another double act in Limerick when he was paired with TJ Ryan but that went south at the end.

For eight years, John Morrison was in the position that Cusack will find himself in next season.

As a trusted lieutenant to Mickey Moran, the pair had spells in Donegal, Derry and Mayo, who reached All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final respectively. They also had a stint in Leitrim.

The formula was simple. They had to present a united front to make sure there were no mixed messages going out to players.

"Myself and Mickey would have had blazing, stand-up rows but at the end of it I'd say 'you're the manager Mickey, you make the call'," Morrison recalled.

"And then we'd go out and implement whatever decision had been made. And you had to stand over it 100pc.

"In some ways, it's the hardest role in the world to play. I'm a lot of things but I'm not a 'yes' man.

"You can't compromise the manager. You have to respect that role and his position.

"But you have to remember that the manager is the only one with 100pc of the information so he knows a little more than you about what is going on."

Moran and Morrison struck up an almost instant rapport stretching back to the turn of the millennium.

Back then, Morrison approached Moran to address the Armagh ladies. The pair hit it off and not long after, Morrison was in the car to Donegal with Moran.

On the way they'd plan out training sessions and discuss what needed to be worked on.

As time moved on, they got more comfortable with each other. Moran, himself an All-Ireland winning coach under Eamonn Coleman in Derry in 1993, soon handed the coaching remit to Morrison, though the former remained very hands-on.

That Moran stayed involved on the pitch was vital, according to Morrison.

"There has to be a fusion for it to work," Morrison said.

"The two must act as one. The manager is doing the coach a disservice if he's not on the field to see what they are working on. And the coach had to in turn back the manager. That's how it has to be.

"But most of all it's about how the players react. There's a saying that players don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

"So you have to involve them and take their ideas on board. That helps to get them on board and then everyone is moving in the right direction."

Clare have won just one Championship game since their All-Ireland final epic against Cork in 2013 - against Offaly this year - but they undoubtedly possess the the talent to return to the top.

Cusack once said of Clare that "If that group of players don't win three All-Irelands, they have failed."

Everything is in place now. Suddenly 2016 looks like it could be very interesting.

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