Rebel Rouser

'He can command respect without demanding it' - Billy Morgan still soaring at 78

On the back of UCC’s Sigerson Cup success this week, The42 takes a closer look at Billy Morgan’s exceptional career in management.

WHEN THE FULL-time whistle rang out at the end of the Sigerson Cup final on Wednesday night, the UCC manager Billy Morgan collapsed to his knees in triumph.

Brian Cuthbert, a member of Morgan’s backroom team and former Cork manager, was looking on at his boss in admiration. At 78, Morgan is still delivering titles for his teams. And after that extra-time battle with UL in a biblical downpour, he was notching up his fourth Sigerson Cup title in 12 years as UCC manager. 

Including the Sigersons he won as a student at UCC, that’s six in total for the Nemo Rangers man. And his tally of medals as a player and manager stretches on a little further than that. He has stats piled upon stats.

With his club, he won four All-Ireland titles while he was also part of Cork football squads who lifted Sam Maguire three times. Added to that are a string of county titles and provincial honours to underpin the extent of his success.

Indeed, he’s one of the GAA’s great treasures.

Morgan has some 60 years chalked up in this racket, and his engine continues to roar.

“I’d say he trains every day and he looks after himself,” Cuthbert tells The42 following a brilliant campaign spent working with the legendary Cork figure.

“He has the enthusiasm, and looking at him for the last six months, the passion is coursing through his veins.”

Former Cork forward — and fellow Nemo man — James Masters can also attest to Morgan’s commitment to clean living. He sees it almost every day. The pair go back years, working together, and succeeding together, at both club and inter-county level.

“He still has that determination which is mad,” says Masters. “I still think he’d actually be able for more roles. I suppose he has limited himself over the last couple of years but the beauty about the Sigerson is that it’s for a couple of months, and he still goes away on his holidays to Spain with [his wife] Mary.”


After the Sigerson Cup final, UCC’s man-of-the-match recipient Mark Cronin offered an interesting insight into the management style of Morgan. In an interview with TG4, he spoke about the belief that Morgan imparts to his players and the philosophy of the skull and cross-bones that’s imprinted on their jerseys. He also referred to the aura that Morgan creates when he enters the dressing room.

All of those elements permeated UCC’s performance right into extra-time at the WIT Sports Campus. It was the third time in four games that they went into extra-time (with some penalty shootouts thrown into the mix) and once again, they eventually prevailed.

Morgan was the conductor behind it all, and Cuthbert has been struck by the sheer volume of his football knowledge that he has been exposed to in the last few months.

“He’s been around the block numerous times, knows the game inside out, and I’ve never met someone with such photographic capacity to actually unravel what’s going on and to remember what happened in games. He just has this ability to recall what actually happened. It’s unbelievable and I’ve never seen anything like it before.

brian-cuthbert Brian Cuthbert during his time as Cork manager in 2015. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

“He gives the players a belief and if he tells you that you’re a very good player or a very good team, he can do it with such conviction and the players latch onto that because he says it. There’s no crazy stuff or shouting or roaring with him. It’s just pure passion, love for the college, love for the jersey and love for the group. It’s really special when you go on a winning streak with matches, and the sense of belief just builds over time.

“He’s so emotionally attached to the group and to UCC football that the players just feed off him. They don’t want to leave him down either; they just love playing for him. They don’t want to disappoint him and play for him.

“The players like being around him as well. They’re 21 and Billy is much older but he’s not like someone who is much older than them in terms of how he connects.”

Masters has picked up on Morgan’s impressive memory too. There are matches that have been wiped from his mind, but they are still lovingly preserved inside the head of his former mentor. 

“I could talk to Billy and he’d say, ‘Jesus I shouldn’t have taken you off in that game,’” Masters says, still in awe of the clarity in Morgan’s archives.

Masters was a player on the rise during Nemo’s golden period in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Under Morgan, they reached three All-Ireland finals in a row between 2001 and 2003. Their first two deciders were unsuccessful, but they succeeded at the third attempt, defeating the 2001 champions Crossmolina Deel Rovers by two points.

Masters highlights the importance of having the great Colin Corkery in their ranks, but he can also recall one particular moment in 1999 that inspired Nemo to strive for more.

“I remember sitting down in the old Nemo in ’99 and having a meeting about what was going wrong when we had such a good team.

“We decided to go that extra mile, and we ended up getting to three All-Ireland finals in a row. When you look back, we never looked like we were going to lose. We just had that thing about us, and Billy drove an awful lot of that.

james-masters Nemo Rangers legend James Masters. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“There was a fear factor as well. In my day, if you did stuff wrong, you’d be ate too, which is a good thing. He could get the most out of you. He had massive confidence in me as a player but likewise, if you were late to training or if you just threw your hand in at a tackle, you knew what you were going to get out of it.

“Even doing a kick-passing drill, you did it at 100%, there was never 50%. If you were going through the motions with a kick-pass, he would call you out on it.

“He had that over absolutely everyone which is needed as well.”


For Cuthbert, this year’s Sigerson Cup campaign was his first time working on a coaching ticket alongside Morgan. When he got the call from the former Cork goalkeeper, he didn’t need any time to consider his answer. Having watched Morgan play for Nemo and Cork while he was growing up, Cuthbert was thrilled to learn from such a well-respected Rebel.

“It’s been a dream and I’ve really enjoyed it.

“There’s loads of stuff to learn from him but I think that key thing is the sense of passion and connection. He can command respect without demanding it. Inside the dressing room, when he speaks, everything he says is on the money and there are no wasted words. He doesn’t speak for the sake of it and he’s just a brilliant manager.

“He has the ability to connect emotionally with the group and I have seen it first hand. He is really in touch with them because he spends a huge amount of time talking to them all individually, and really looks after them. Billy could spend as much time with the lad who hasn’t got game time, as he does with the fella who has scored the most points for the team in terms of talking to him and trying to bring him on.

“If anyone needs anything, he’d be the first fella to sort it. He’d be checking in with them, and he’s on the phone to a lot of the players a lot of the time. He spends a huge amount of time pulling fellas aside and talking to them one-to-one.

“Everybody wants to play for him, do well for him, and is as much about really pushing themselves for themselves. A lot of it is, ‘Let’s not leave this man down, he’s our leader.’ He’s Mr Football in UCC.”

Both Masters and Cuthbert can see Morgan pushing on with his managerial career, and adding more silverware to his collection if possible. Even at 78, there’s no indication that he wishes to stop. His belly isn’t full yet.

Generational divides haven’t prevented him from engaging with the young players of today, and there are many more who would benefit from his wisdom.

“He has a very firm belief in how the game of football should be played and I think he likes giving players [the] freedom to express themselves,” says Cuthbert.

“There’s huge freedom to express your personality. College football is slightly different to inter-county football in the fact that you do get a chance to be more free and less constricted than what happens at inter-county level.

“UCC want players playing football. No robots, and they just enjoy playing.”

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