JUST SECONDS INTO their SSE Airtricity League Premier Division game against Dundalk last month, there was a moment which could be described as a microcosm of Cork City’s intentions this season.
After the visitors got the game underway, City midfielder Gearoid Morrissey clattered into Dundalk playmaker Patrick McEleney. The sell-out crowd at Turner’s Cross roared their approval. The challenge was firm but fair, and it set the tone for a 2-1 victory over the champions which strengthened John Caulfield’s side’s grip on top spot.
“We were talking about it before the game,” Morrissey recalls. “John [Caulfield] and the lads were saying: ‘Listen, let them know they’re in a game here right from the start. Let them know how much we want this’.
“Especially for a big game like that, you’re gearing yourself up all day and then the minute the whistle goes you have all that anxiety and energy that you want to let out. I suppose it set a bit of a tone alright.”
Cork City will take a nine-point lead into the Premier Division’s tenth round of 2017 fixtures this weekend. By not dropping a single point so far, the Leesiders have made their best ever start to a season, which they’ll aim to continue tomorrow night away to St Patrick’s Athletic.
Now in his seventh season with Cork City, Gearoid Morrissey has long been consistent and reliable for his hometown club. However, the early indications suggest that the former Ringmahon Rangers midfielder is in the process of taking his game to the next level.
Although his contributions often fly under the radar, Morrissey is undoubtedly a key player for the side currently setting the pace in the League of Ireland. Always an accomplished footballer when in possession, his development into a complete midfielder was encapsulated by his assist for Karl Sheppard’s goal against Derry City a fortnight ago.
After dispossessing Nathan Boyle with an aggressive tackle just inside Cork’s own half, he split the Derry defence with a sublime 30-yard pass to Sheppard. Morrissey is becoming an imposing presence in the centre of the park for Cork City. He’s high on confidence, but that hasn’t always been the case for the former Ireland underage international.
If Cork City supporters had one complaint regarding Gearoid Morrissey during his early years with the club, it was that he often appeared to play within himself. A gifted footballer who didn’t seem to realise or believe in the extent of his own potential.
“I’d be humble enough,” he says. “Even if I had a good performance it would be other people telling me that. I’d never really know 100% myself. It was only when I’d hear other people saying it that I’d start to think that I must have done okay.
“Football is nearly all mental. Obviously you need to look after yourself and you need to be ready physically, but the mental side of the game is massive. It probably hasn’t actually seeped in over here in Ireland properly yet. You’d see it a lot with the bigger clubs in England, where sports psychologists are an important part of it now.”
Morrissey began to acknowledge the importance of the mental side of sport at a point when his confidence was put to the test.
Homesickness brought him back to Cork in 2010 following a couple of years with Blackburn Rovers. After helping City to win the First Division title in 2011, a return to England seemed inevitable throughout the 2014 season when Morrissey starred for John Caulfield’s side as they missed out on the Premier Division title on the final day of the season.
After City’s decisive defeat to Dundalk at Oriel Park, Morrissey’s next game of football was an FA Cup replay for Cambridge United at Old Trafford. He was introduced as a 51st-minute substitute for Luke Chadwick in a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United.
“I’m buzzing off it… it was surreal,” he said afterwards. But debuting for Cambridge against one of the world’s biggest clubs in front of a crowd of over 74,000 gave him a false forecast for the shape of things to come.
The game at Old Trafford was the first of just 10 appearances he made over the course of a year with the League Two side. Morrissey’s arrival in Cambridge had immediately been followed by the appointment of a new manager, Shaun Derry, who had his own plans for the club.
The situation was similarly challenging for Rory Gaffney, who joined Cambridge from Limerick at the same time. Gaffney has since moved on to Bristol Rovers, but both players endured a difficult 2015 at the Abbey Stadium, where opportunities were limited.
“The confidence I have in myself now, a lot of it comes from the manager and the coaching staff here [at Cork City]. It’s also from being part of such a good group of players. And it is a brilliant group here. They’re fantastic lads to play with and train with,” Morrissey explains.
“I don’t work with a sports psychologist but I’d be into self-help books — ‘The Secret’ and stuff like that. I suppose I had a hard time in Cambridge and I started looking into it over there. Gaffney was over there with me and the two of us were struggling.
“He’d be into that and he started passing me the odd book here and there, saying ‘Have a read of that page’ and that sort of thing. He knew that I was in the same boat as him. The two of us mentally were down. That’s when I started getting into it and it does help, to be fair.
“You can never completely control the mental side of things but you can definitely manage it. Even if you only take away a small thing from a book, it stays with you. Having the tools and the knowledge is what it’s all about. It can help you to realise if you need to change your way of thinking and I’ve found that it’s helped me a lot.”
Should Morrissey’s impressive run of form continue, it’s likely that fresh opportunities to give England another shot will be available. At 25, he’s still young enough to succeed there, but his two previous spells away have helped him to realise that satisfaction as a professional footballer isn’t only attainable east of the Irish Sea.
The way Morrissey sees it, he’s currently earning a good living by making an important contribution for the club he grew up supporting, while also playing in front of big home crowds, challenging for silverware and preparing for another Europa League campaign. It’s a set of circumstances he’s in no hurry to change.
“I keep an open mind to everything but it [returning to England] isn’t on my mind at all and that’s being totally honest,” he says. “All I’m thinking about is what we can achieve here, and what I need to do to make sure I’m playing a part in that.
“Football is weird so you’d never know what’s going to happen from one day to the next, but I’m genuinely not thinking about anything other than what’s going on here.”
Morrissey adds: “When we won the FAI Cup it was mad in town. The reception we got was unbelievable. I haven’t seen any other club getting that before. The way we are at the moment, competing for everything, this is the ideal place for me. I love playing for this club.
“In the League of Ireland, there’s nowhere I can see that has what we have. It’s nearly always been like that, to be fair. I remember going to the Cross as a young fella and then going to other League of Ireland grounds, but for some reason they didn’t have the same feel.
“To play there and be the home side is a great feeling. On a sunny Friday evening, the Cross is full of your friends and family — you’d know nearly every second or third person. Playing football for a living in that kind of environment, it’s something special.”