Wednesday, 14 December 2016 23:52

Mick Morrissey: Legend Of Carlow & Wexford

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Mick Morrissey Put Carlow Firmly On The Hurling Map In 1955

He was the first Carlow hurler, albeit in the purple and gold of neighbouring Wexford, to win an All Ireland senior hurling medal since the first ever All Ireland Hurling Final between Tipperary and Galway on the 1st August 1888 at Birr, Co. Offaly.

That was 67 years since the very beginning of the first All Ireland final and despite playing for his adopted county, Carlow gaels around the globe were mighty proud that at last a Carlow hurler went up the Hogan Stand steps to make history.

Born in the historic County Carlow parish of Ballycrenegan in St. Mullins, Co. Carlow, in 1932, Michael Morrissey grew up on a family farm surrounded by his siblings under the Blackstairs Mountains and the name of the game was hurling and more hurling as he wore the green/white St. Mullins colours in his introduction to hurling.

Part of a family of seven boys and two girls, the journey to pastures of profitable work was difficult and when an opportunity arose to migrate to a New Ross drapery store as an apprentice, Michael made a huge decision to move southwards to the Wexford town and hence began a famous hurling journey that  would make history.

He later opened his own man’s drapery shop in New Ross and hurled with the local Geraldine O’Hanrahan’s club and it was here he came to the attention of the Wexford selectors in the early 1950’s.

Michael of St. Mullins in Wexford became Mick, and he became the first Carlow man ever to win an All Ireland senior hurling medal. He went on to claim a total of three All Ireland senior hurling medals and two National Hurling League medals also in the purple and yellow of Wexford.

The first All Ireland title came in 1955 against Galway; the second in 1956 when Wexford reversed the 1954 All Ireland defeat V Cork and Christy Ring and Co. and in 1960 against mighty odds, Wexford defeated Tipperary, who had the famous Doyles (no relation) Jimmy and John in their ranks.

Mick Morrissey came on as a sub in the 1960 final and did not start due to a nagging injury.

The achievement of a Carlow man making hurling history in 1955 swept all over Ireland and wherever hurling was played, Mick Morrissey at that time was regarded as one of the greatest wingbacks in the game and was highly respected in all counties.

In 1956 Cork, and 36 years old Christy Ring, did not know that a Wexford victory in the All Ireland final would be responsible for the famine it created in Cork’s All Ireland roll of honour.

It took a mighty 12 years before Cork re-emerged as All Ireland senior hurling champions in 1966 after their 1954 defeat of Wexford..

1956 was also the year when the famous Wexford goalie, Art Foley, made a wonder save that All Ireland believed would be one of Ring’s greatest ever goals.

It did not happen for Ring and Cork on that historic 1956 September day at Croke Park.

Mick Morrissey wore the No.7 jersey on that great Wexford team of 1955 and No.4 in the 1956 victory. Meantime in Leinster Kilkenny were waiting in the long grass in 1957 to re-emerge after a wilderness that lasted from 1953 until 1957 to again become Leinster champions.

Wexford were back as Leinster Champions again in 1960 beating Kilkenny on a scoreline of 3 – 10 to

2 – 11. In the 1960 All Ireland final Mick was called in from the subs bench to replace Séamus Quaid and proceeded to win his third glorious All Ireland senior hurling medal.

Two National Hurling League medals won in 1955/56 and 1957/58 against Tipperary and Limerick respectively also can be included in Mick’s roll of honour.

The Carlow hurler played 17 championship games in the colours of his adopted Wexford.

 

In 1960, at the age of twenty eight, Mick Morrissey made a life changing decision for his family and for himself.

By now an established All Ireland champion hurler, the former St. Mullins player crossed over the Atlantic in emigration to New York. In the city that never sleeps Mick Morrissey reinvented his hurling career initially with the Kilkenny club and then Wexford.

He played on New York teams that contested N.H.L. finals, took up coaching and refereeing after finishing his playing days. He also became the only New York G.A.A. President with the distinction of winning an All Ireland senior hurling medal and he made a huge impression as coach of New York hurling teams.

Golf was a sport that occupied a great amount of Mick’s leisure time and as founder of the Emerald Golf Society in New York, he served fifteen terms as Club President.

Mick Morrissey, born in Ballycrinegan, St. Mullins, Co. Carlow, died suddenly in New York in 1993 and is buried far away from St. Mullins and New Ross. 

May he rest in peace.

In 1970 New York GAA was on a high and its hurling and football teams were equal to the best Ireland could offer. Only three years earlier in the National League two-leg final, the New York footballers hammered the great Galway three-in-a-row side in both games, 3-5 to 1-6 and 4-3 to 0-10, for a 10-point aggregate win. It was the third league title for the footballers.

The hurlers had never won the league but in 1970 this looked set to change. In October 1969 New York beat the newly-crowned All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in what was called The World Cup, trouncing the Cats in the first leg (3-13 to 1-7), drawing the second leg, to win comfortably on aggregate. Trained by former Wexford great Mick Morrissey and backboned by Pat Kirby, big Jim Carney from Clare and Bernie Ahern (a former team-mate of Christy Ring’s in Cloyne), New York went on to record another bit of history when beating a star-studded Munster side in the 1970 Cardinal Cushing Games.

The momentum very much with them and they were all set for a meeting with Cork, the ‘Home’ league champions of 1969 and 1970, when New York suffered its first setback — a request from Cork granted by GAA headquarters for a postponement of the two-leg final until after the 1970 championship was over.

The long delay broke the New York’s momentum while Cork had built up a head of steam by the time they finally went to New York. Cork won the first game on September 13 in Gaelic Park by three points (4-11 to 4-8). The referee for that game was Dublin’s Clem Foley, who had been brought to New York with the GAA travelling party, and, in what hadn’t been a notably fractious game, he sent off a player from each side.

Trouble was brewing, however. In the second leg of the 1966 National League football final in Croke Park, several New York players, along with New York referee John Nolan had been accosted. It left a bitter taste, but worse was to come.

In the second leg of the 1970 hurling league final New York played to their potential and beat Cork, but only by a point, leaving the Rebels as champions.

The real story of that shameful day was just starting. As he made his way from the pitch, Foley was seriously assaulted by several people.

“He was kicked and struck twice in the face,” said an Irish Press report from the game. “He was subjected to threats and abuse all the way to the dressing room.”

Clem’s son Dave takes up the story.

“The match was over, my dad was coming off the field and was approached by two members of the New York board who shook his hand, thanked him for refereeing the match. While they were doing that a player came from behind and hit him, then others came in. All he can remember is that there was blood pouring out of his eyes, but he was determined not to fall to the ground because he felt if he did, he’d be killed.

“Apparently a Fr Hill came in, a giant of a man, cracked a few skulls, managed to grab my father and guide him into the dressing room. I was at home in Whitehall, only 14 at the time, and I was listening to the match on the radio when I heard Michael O’Hehir shout ‘The referee has been assaulted!’ I ran into my mother and told her, ‘Daddy has been assaulted in America!’

“You can imagine what it was like in the house, no instant communication like there is today. It wasn’t till the Wednesday evening we got the story. Michael O’Hehir and Seán Ó Siocháin [Secretary General of the GAA] came directly from the airport to our house to tell my mother what had happened, that Clem was in hospital and wouldn’t be home for a few days. He was out of work for 14 weeks with his jaw smashed. He had to get a replacement steel plate inserted.”

So, who had hit Clem? “A fella called John Maher was suspended for it and the man who identified him was Michael O’Hehir, who said he saw him take off his jersey and run at Clem from behind, though I’m told he went to court to prove that he hadn’t done it.”

There was however one good news element to emerge from the affair.

“My dad died on May 29 last year and going through his affairs afterwards I found a series of letters from a gentleman called Connie Neenan. It turned out that he had paid for my father’s operation in the New York hospital after the incident.

“He was with Waterford Glass in New York and he was the main man who got the dressing rooms and all that built in the St Finbarr’s club in Cork in the early ’70s. I didn’t know he existed before I found those letters but I’d now like to offer them to St Finbarr’s, if they want them for their archives. They’re phenomenal letters about the New York incident and other things that were going on in the GAA at the time.”

It wasn’t over yet. New York were due to play the World Cup final a few weeks later, again against Cork but this time in Ireland. They had made and paid for all their travel arrangements, time arranged off work, when word came through that Central Council had postponed the game for a week. New York still travelled in the hope the original arrangement would stand, but Central Council stood firm. So did New York, who refused to play.

This led to the cancellation of the gaelic football World Cup final that was due to be played a few weeks after that again, against Kerry in New York. A few weeks later, in light of all that had happened, the GAA imposed a two-year suspension on New York. The break was complete, lasted for over 10 years.

And Clem Foley?

“I met Pat Fanning [then GAA president] in Croke Park several years ago shortly before he died, went over and introduced myself. He was delighted to see me, asked about Clem. I said to him, ‘Pat, I have a question for you and I don’t want you to flower the answer. I want to know about my dad in New York and cut to the chase — did he make a bollix of it?’

“Pat Fanning totally defended my father and that game, said he had met many honourable men in his life but none more honourable than Clem Foley. My dad was a physically powerful man and recovered very quickly. He took up power-lifting after he retired from refereeing when he was 60 and won a few All-Irelands. He had always had an interest in weight-training and tug o’ war, racquetball, handball and all that. But never had an axe to grind over any of this, and I want to make that clear.

“He actually refereed in New York again, in ’85, the All Star game. John Kerry O’Donnell controlled Gaelic Park at the time, tried to stop him getting in and there was a big furore over it at the time. It made all the newspapers. O’Donnell said that even if he came by helicopter he wasn’t refereeing the match!

“It was Frank Murphy [Cork secretary] and Mick O’Dwyer that basically called his bluff. They backed my father, said they’d play the match somewhere else if they had to. They knew O’Donnell had got in extra food and drink for the day and all of that, he stood to lose a lot, and they called his bluff. But they weren’t bluffing, they would have played the match elsewhere. Look, I know he was me father but he was one of a kind.”

And in the annals of the National Hurling League so was 1970.

Wexford is a county that can boast of just moderate success at the game of hurling, nonetheless the deprivation of notable trophies down the years has never eroded interest in the game. When I was once asked to give a talk to a Wexford hurling team, I remember saying "There are no fifteen men in County Wexford, no matter what the code, or under what banner they exist, who will carry with them the hopes, backing and affectionate support that you fifteen will have. From the lighthouse of Hook in the very south, to Tara Hill in the north, they will come out of the valleys and from the hills to be with you, let it be victory or defeat".

"What is it about the game of hurling that makes it touch the very soul of Irishmen?" I once asked a well-known gaelic footballer, Louis Rafter, who holds seven county titles. "I would trade three football medals for one hurling title," was his reply. When a county reaches Croke Park for the All-Ireland final day, after a big lapse of years, the impact has a shuddering effect on people in all walks of life;... parish and county pride is slowly awakened. T.J. Maher, one of Tipperary's greatest sons, once said that the economy of a county is improved upon winning an All-Ireland title. Without question, in all of us, there are strong tribal feelings and urges, and one of the main release valves is through sporting achievement, when your parish or county win out in a team competition. These suppressed instincts lie dormant in a county that for years has been locked in a spiral of failure. Sporting success, be it individual, or of a team nature, can quickly light up the soul of such a county.

Prior to the All-Ireland final against Galway in 1955, the county was saturated with a strong belief that the flood gates of All-Ireland success were about to burst open. The unattainable dream was at hand. Gathered over the years, the rust of frustrating defeat and disappointment would quickly dissipate, mentally polished away by a gleaming All-Ireland victory. And so it happened.

Extract from Billy Rackard's No Hurling at the Dairy Door.

Since each All-Ireland final brings its own flavour, the Galway – Wexford contest was no exception. After the emotional preliminaries the game was started by another hurling dynasty member, referee Bob Stakelum of Tipperary. The forwards were just settled in the second minute when Nick Rackard did something we have never seen him do before. Seamus Hearne hurled the ball from midfield to Padge Kehoe who sent it on. Rackard swung first time, a savage grounder. Tom Boland didn't know it was in the net until the air exploded. Tim Flood followed with a delicious point, and we sat back to savour the capture of safe medals.

Bernard Power, the veteran Galway full-back, went off injured and was replaced in his job of marking Nickey Rackard by the mobile army officer Billy O'Neill. Hubert Gordon came on in the Galway defence. Next the undaunted Galway men went on a spree using their surprise packet, the teenager Paddy Egan. Billie Duffy pulled on a clearance, Joe Young swept the ball across the Wexford goal and Egan hopped in like a cat to bamboozle both backs and goalie. That goal set Galway aflame. Minutes later a drive from the splendid Joe Salmon reached Paddy Egan again. As he slipped past Mick Hanlon the ball was flashed to the net again. Galway were in the lead. From that to half time Galway were only pegged back by a grim, altered defence and a powerful Wexford goal by Ned Wheeler. Cold fear was again added to the menu when Nickey Rackard drove a 21-yard 'special' wide. As the teams rested at half time, Galway were leading by 2-5 to 2-3.

Second Half

Wexford opened the second half with their backs to the sun and a light breeze. For ten nightmare minutes the equal duel went on. Seamus Hearne then pointed. Seconds later Padge Kehoe equalised. Then Nicky Rackard swerved like a ballet dancer to point from play and Wexford were ahead. Tom Ryan disentangled himself to lash over another point: Rackard followed with a point from a free. Wexford were three points clear when Duggan put the brake on celebration with a pointed Galway free. It was at this stage that Wexford impatience erupted. Liberated, Nickey Rackard clutched a ball where he had raced towards the left forward area. He sent it to Paddy Kehoe, Kehoe sent it to Tom Ryan who took a brace of feigned steps. Ryan flicked the ball to Flood. Boland never had a chance.

From that moment until full time Wexford repeated the exhibition of which they were capable, exhibition material that because of the team's size and maturity still aroused the wonder of experts. Ned Wheeler brazened two points over, Padge Kehoe another beauty, followed by a Tim Flood butterfly float. Jim Morrissey scored a lofter from miles out. On the call of time Joe Salmon scored Galway's only point from play in the second half and Wexford was off again merrily attacking as the final whistle blew. Wexford 3-13, Galway 2-8. Wexford were All-Ireland champions- actual, real, undisputed All-Ireland hurling champions.

Extract from Nicholas Furlong's The Greatest Hurling Decade.

For honest endeavour, outstanding individual performance and sportsmanship it would be hard to surpass the 1956 All-Ireland final between Wexford and Cork. For tension, drama and excitement it is doubtful if the last few minutes of that memorable game have ever been or will be surpassed.

For it was the happenings of a brief few moments that assured immortality for one man and robbed another of a unique record. With time running out fast for Cork and champions Wexford leading by 2 points, 1-13 to 2-8, Christy Ring, for once, got inside Bobby Rackard and raced towards the Wexford goal.

The prospect of an unique 9th All-Ireland medal dangled in front of the Cloyne man and the Croke Park crowd held its breath a moment waiting to acclaim, surely, a Cork goal.

There was only one Wexfordman unmoved by the whole thing and he was in the right place. No one would have blamed Art Foley if he had 'dived for the camera'. The St. Aidan's man, however, had no such intentions. He had the situation completely under control and he knew it.

He had the ball covered from the time it left Ring's hurl. For once the maestro had been anticipated. His golden drive did not reach its pre-destined position. It reached the sure hand of Art Foley who grabbed it safely, side-stepped the incoming Ring and another Cork forward and put the finishing touches to a magnificent piece of work with a tremendous clearance.

The cheering which greeted the save rocked Croke Park to its very foundations. It grew in its intensity as the goalie's clearance reached Jim English and rose to a crescendo as Nick Rackard picked up his clubmate's drive, side stepped John Lyons and left Cashman groping with a bullet-like drive. Not even Ring could save the situation now and Tom Dixon added a point to leave the final scores 2-14 to 2-8 in Wexford's favour. All the critics had now been silenced- Wexford had beaten Cork and Tipperary in one year.

Extract from Sean Nolan's article 'The Glory Years of Wexford Hurling 1950-1960'in the Centenary Tribute to the G.A.A in Wexford 1884-1984.

Last modified on Friday, 22 September 2017 00:19