© Matt BrowneINPHO Morrisroe in action for St Patrick's Athletic in 1996.

'We beat Le Tissier's Southampton. Lawrie McMenemy shook my hand and said: 'Listen kid, sensational f*****g goal''

Brian Morrisroe chats to The42 in the latest instalment of our League of Ireland Legends series.

IT WAS THE summer of 1995 when football really started to kick off for Brian Morrisroe. Boyzone were top of the charts, St Pat’s would soon be top of the league and everything was fitting into place perfectly.

“A year later I was a league champion,” he explains, “played in an FAI Cup final, was awarded Young Player of the Year, had been named man-of-the-match after scoring the winner against Southampton at Richmond Park and played against Slovan Bratislava in the Uefa Cup. A magical year.”

On top of that, he was picked alongside a squad of the League of Ireland’s top performers to travel to Atlanta. They would play against the South Carolina Shamrocks in a set of matches which helped prepare the USA’s 1996 Olympic soccer team for that summer’s Games. “Tony Sheridan, Stephen Geoghegan, Jonathan Prizeman, Trevor Croly. Jesus, we had a fantastic squad,” he smiles, remembering the trip Stateside.

But it all began with that pre-season prior to the 1995/96 Premier Division campaign, one that would see St Patrick’s Athletic crowned League of Ireland champions for the first time in six years upon their return to Richmond Park, having spent a number of years exiled at Harold’s Cross — where players would complain about the consistent presence of dog shit on the pitch during games. “You’d be afraid going up for a header at Harold’s Cross,” former Pat’s defender Paul ‘Soupy’ Campbell once said. “You wouldn’t know what was stuck to the ball.”

The Saints faced John Aldridge’s Tranmere Rovers, York City and Southampton in three friendly games in Inchicore that would propel Morrisroe from a young, inexperienced and shy winger plying his trade with St Pats’ reserves, to an instrumental part of Brian Kerr’s iconic title-winning side.

“When you think about it,” the 46-year-old, who now works as an administrator with the HSE, says delving into some happy nostalgia. “Eddie Gormley, Paul Osam, Liam Buckley, Soupy, Ricky O’Flaherty, John McDonnell, Dave Campbell. It was a phenomenal team.”

St. Patrick's Athletic players celebrate winning the National League of Ireland © Tom Honan / INPHO 'The Greener'. Brian Kerr led St Patrick's Athletic to the title in 1990 and again in 1996 upon their return to Richmond Park. © Tom Honan / INPHO / INPHO

“1995 is where it all began for me,” Morrisroe says. “That summer we played Tranmere with Pat Nevin and John Aldridge, and Southampton with Lawrie McMenemy. I scored against Tranmere to give us the lead and they equalised late on, this was on the Monday, and we should have beaten them. Then on the Wednesday night we played Southampton. Matt Le Tissier was on that team, he was playing down the right side and I was playing on the left, so we were at loggerheads all game.

I was only 22 and it was just an honour to be on the same pitch as them. But then I end up scoring the winner and Le Tissier didn’t do an awful lot during the game. Noel Mernagh played the ball square across to me. I took one touch and then… whack! Smacked it into the back of the net. Dave Beasant, who won the FA Cup with the Wimbledon Crazy Gang in 1988, he was in goal for Southampton that night. He was an England international and I scored from about 25 yards out into the top corner.

“But I’ll always remember what Lawrie McMenemy said to me. I got mobbed after the game with little kids looking for my autograph, and I was one of the last into our dressing room. Lawrie was standing at our door with Dave Beasant at Richmond Park and he said: ‘Listen kid, sensational fucking goal, fair play to you’ and he shook my hand. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff.

“I was shaking Lawrie’s hand, it was like a big shovel. Right there and then I knew I had a chance of breaking into the Pat’s first team on a more regular basis for that 1995/96 season.”

seidodge / YouTube

Morrisroe was born and raised in Perrystown, South Dublin, and lived a stone’s throw away from Niall Quinn, who he says was a local hero and an all-round athlete supremo during the 1970s before joining Arsenal and moving on to Manchester City.

“He lived probably 150 yards from my door. Up the avenue and around the corner, he lived just there. I used to call into Niall and his dad — God rest him — would answer the door and we’d ask ‘is Niall coming out to play a game of football?’ And he would always come out and play football with us as kids, even though he was about five years older than us. We all looked up to him because he was an all-round athlete. He played gaelic, football, hurling for Dublin, everything. He’s a lovely, lovely fella.”

Morrisroe began his own footballing career with Leinster Senior League side Manortown before Liam Buckley, then a 33-year-old player/assistant manager with St Patrick’s Athletic — having enjoyed a phenomenal career with teams like the Vancouver Whitecaps, KSV Waregem in Belgium and Racing de Santander in Spain’s La Liga — convinced Brian Kerr to take a chance on him.

Liam literally lived overlooking the pitch itself up in Perrystown, 300 yards from where we lived. He was part-managing the team up in Manortown and he was with Pat’s alongside Brian Kerr too. He convinced Brian to maybe come down and take a look at me. Brian wasn’t convinced, saying: ‘Ah, how old is he Liam, 22? Can he do this and that?’ So I went down to St Pat’s, played some friendlies and was with the reserves that year with Cyril Walsh in 1993.”

Morrisroe plied his trade with Walsh’s reserves before earning his big break after those impressive pre-season displays against Tranmere and Southampton before the start of their 1995/96 title-winning campaign. A scary dressing room to come into, he says, with big characters like McDonnell, Gormley, Osam and Buckley to contend with for a reserved and inexperienced young lad, who had been playing Leinster Senior League football only a couple of years beforehand.

DlmvVBWXoAUPCBp The winger joined St Pat's in 1993 from the Leinster Senior League.

“It was a bit daunting at the time, I have to say. You’re training with these guys and hearing stories about them winning leagues and cup finals. So I was a bit intimidated by it. I was a really young 22-year-old, if that makes sense. I was very immature and a bit shy. There were a lot of big characters in that dressing room like John McDonnell, John ‘Trapper’ Treacy, Paul Campbell, Dave Campbell, Paul Osam.

I was quite fit and was a good athlete. I never struggled with the training and stuff like that, so I think I held out quite well in the early days, even though I was a very small winger. I was playing reserve football for six or seven months before I broke into the first team, and by that stage I was flying.”

Morrisroe credits Kerr with creating a ruthless, winners’ environment for St Pat’s to thrive in during the 1990s. A football fanatic with an outrageous attention to detail, “a lunatic,” he says, Morrisroe recalls getting lifts home with Kerr, and that he would oftentimes be terrified of his manager.

“I called Brian ‘Columbo’, that was my nickname for him, because he had this mad trench-coat,” Morrisroe smiles. “A three-quarter length trench coat combined with the black hair and he was the spitting image of Columbo.

“Brian used to drop me home and I’d be real sheepish in the car with him. He had this old banger he used to drive back when he worked out in UCD. He worked as a lab technician in horticulture, so that’s where he got his other nickname ‘the Greener’.

St. Patrick's Athletic team celebrate © INPHO St Pat's won the title for the fifth time in the club's history in 1995/1996. © INPHO

“My wife was a student at UCD at the time. He used to drop her to college and then ended up dropping me home from training too. Bizarre. I’d be sitting in the car with him, and this old banger would be full of match programmes and paper — real messy. I would be sitting there and there’d be hardly a word spoken between us. It was like going home with your fucking teacher, that’s what it felt like.

“I was a timid young fella and would be sitting there with Brian thinking ‘what do I say here?’ He did see something in me eventually, and it comes back to Liam Buckley because he told Brian Kerr to take a chance on me. They did and it worked out. For me, certainly.”

St Pat’s won the title in 1990 on a wet and horrible day up in Drogheda under Kerr but it would be another six years before the Saints would clinch the Premier Division again. With a squad filled with League of Ireland icons like Osam, captain McDonnell, Gormley patrolling midfield and Galway-born striker O’Flaherty, they pipped Bohemians after going 25 games unbeaten in the second half of the season.

Newly-appointed Ireland manager Mick McCarthy was in attendance at Richmond Park for a pivotal 3-0 victory against Galway United in April 1996. It was a result which meant St Pat’s could wrap up the title a few days later away to Dundalk up at Oriel Park.

It was a good goal, but it wasn’t one of my best,” Morrisroe jibes, remembering his man-of-the-match display against the Tribesmen where he scored one and set up the other two.

“It was with my right foot and I was outside the box. George Hamilton did the commentary for RTÉ and he was picking me out and saying that Mick McCarthy was at the game. I scored one and made another that night against Galway, this was a week before we played Dundalk up at Oriel. Basically we only needed two points from our last two games to win the league, so we knew going up to Dundalk that if we won, we’d wrap up the title then and there.”

Ask any Saints supporter of a certain age about that 2-1 victory at Oriel Park and you will see their face light up as they grin from ear-to-ear. After going behind, a looping Ricky O’Flaherty header levelled proceedings, before Paul Campbell swung a sublime free-kick right into the Dundalk top corner in the 86th minute.

Cue a pitch invasion and Brian Kerr dancing like a giddy schoolkid on the sideline, punching the air and falling to his knees as his side were crowned champions for the fifth time in the club’s history, Kerr’s second title in six years.

“Richie Purdy was sent off very early for Dundalk,” remembers Morrisroe. “So they played the majority of the game with 10 men, and we still barely got past them. They got a scrawny goal to go ahead, it hit our goalkeeper’s hand, hit the bar and tiddled over the line. Ricky equalised with a magnificent header from a Peter Carpenter cross to make it 1-1, he must have headed it from 15 yards out into the far corner, incredible.

So we were 1-1 at half-time and in the second half we had loads of chances to win it. Liam Buckley hit the post with a header, but then Paul Campbell scored the free-kick with two or three minutes left to win it. Soupy wouldn’t have been a free-kick specialist, but he hit that one well.”

By that stage substituted off and watching on through helpless, nervous eyes, Morrisroe says that the final whistle and the subsequent pitch invasion was a moment of pure euphoria. The Saints had reached their promised land, he says.

St. Patrick's Athletic players celebrate winning the National League of Ireland © Tom Honan / INPHO John Glinn, Martin Reilly, Noel Mernagh and Peter Carpenter celebrate winning the Premier Division at Oriel Park. © Tom Honan / INPHO / INPHO

“It was just absolute madness,” he says, re-watching a YouTube clip of the game’s final moments. “We were sitting on the bench and I remember I was absolutely soaked from head to toe with the muck and the rain, because it was a shit night up there.

‘I remember the goal going in and all of us on the bench and Brian jumping up onto the sideline. Brian was down on his knees. There was a pitch invasion, the referee had to stop the game and get everyone off because there were still a few minutes of play left.

It was a good bus journey home, I’ll tell you that. We had a couple of pints up at the bar in Oriel, we got on the bus and when we got to Dublin, Brian and Noel O’Reilly said: ‘take a left here in Drumcondra’.

“The bus went down by Shelbourne’s ground Tolka Park and we sang a song outside. Next, we turned the bus around, went up to Phibsborough, went by Dalymount Park and sang another song there and sprayed beer everywhere.

“Eventually we got back to Inchicore and we were there until four o’clock in the morning in the Horse & Jockey and McDowell’s too — we were going from one pub to the other. Absolute carnage. It was the best night of my life.”

Brian Morrisroe 25/8/1996 © INPHO Morrisroe was a tricky left-footed winger at Richmond Park for the Saints from 1993 to 1997. © INPHO

Morrisroe says that, with St Patrick’s Athletic having almost gone out of business, nearly into receivership during the early 1990s and forced to play their games exiled at Harold’s Cross, winning a league title upon their return to a newly-developed Richmond Park was a very special feeling.

Campbell, the goalscorer with that 86th-minute free-kick, said in an interview last year that he played the final few minutes of their 2-1 win in Dundalk with tears in his eyes. Campbell said that the entire squad knew just how much the title win meant to supporters, to Kerr and to Inchicore, an area exploited by drug dealers during the 1990s. It was a community that took so much pride in their football club.

We used to train on the concrete over by the flats in St Michael’s Estate,” says Morrisroe. “We would be training on the Tuesday and Wednesday, set out cones and have a game. There would be glass everywhere. There were steel goals there, goals used by children for a kickabout, but we would use them for our training sessions with Pat’s.

“There were a lot of drug issues there and the area was quite run down at the time. The fans were fantastic though. You had so many young kids and teenagers at our games and I suppose in a small way, once every week or so it gave them somewhere to go on a Friday night.

“It was so sentimental winning the league that year for the Inchicore faithful,” Morrisroe adds. “Because that was the first league the club won back in its rightful home at Richmond Park after the years away at Harold’s Cross.”

From the best night of his life, the winger experienced significant heartbreak on the field when the Dubliners attempted to complete a historic league and cup double a week later against Shelbourne.

St Patrick's Athletic FC / YouTube

The 1996 FAI Cup final ended in a 1-1 draw, Tony Sheridan’s incredible lob being most people’s abiding memory of the encounter at Lansdowne Road, with Shelbourne coming out on top 2-1 in the replay at Dalymount Park a week later.

“I have sleepless nights about that FAI Cup final replay. Fucking sleepless nights. With three or four minutes left to go I’m through one-on-one with the goalkeeper Alan Gough. I’m just about to shoot to win the game — win the FAI Cup and the double, end the Pat’s hoo-doo in the cup — and Greg Costello drags me down for a penalty, which Eddie Gormley missed.

“I can’t get that memory out of my head, I was just about to shoot to potentially win the cup final and Greg drags me down, absolutely cynical. But listen, it worked. Eddie Gormley misses the penalty, Alan Gough put it out for a corner, caught the corner and threw the ball out to Mark Rutherford, who ran down the left and they scored through Stephen Geoghegan and win 2-1. It was a sickner of sickners.

“I always think I could have been the one to have scored in the FAI Cup final that won us the double and ended the hoo-doo. Greg. Fucking. Costello,” Morrisroe laughs.

Me and Greg get on great now though. Unfortunately, it’s just football. A desperate measure on his behalf. It was a sickening way to end the season. I was crying tears walking off the pitch in Dalymount Park in 1996. It was an emotional day. Me, Liam Buckley, my dad and my girlfriend all went back to the local pub. What could you do but drown your sorrows?”

St Pat’s were denied a historic league and cup double, with Morrisroe staying just one more season at Richmond Park before spending time at Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk, Athlone Town under Liam Buckley, Dublin City and Sporting Fingal, before retiring in 2007, always trying to chase the high of that 1996 title win and replicate it elsewhere.

John McDonnell  St. Patrick's Athletic  League of Ireland Champions 1996 © INPHO / Tom Honan Captain Johnny McDonnell lifts the Premier Division trophy in 1996. © INPHO / Tom Honan / Tom Honan

A combination of reasons led to his departure at the age of 25, with the winger admitting today that he regrets his decision to bid farewell. “I have one league winners’ medal, and I should probably have three,” Morrisroe sighs.

Kerr stepped down as manager of St Pat’s in December 1997 to take up a position overseeing Ireland’s underage teams with the FAI. The Drimnagh native enjoyed incredible success at the 1997 World Youth Championships, winning bronze, and winning both the Under 16 and Under 18 Uefa European Championships a year later in 1998, before taking the senior Ireland job.

Pat Dolan took over from Kerr at Richmond Park, with Morrisroe not entirely on board with a new regime which demanded significantly more commitment than was previously expected by a squad of players who worked full-time on top of their football with St Pat’s. Morrisroe worked as a porter with the HSE in Rathmines.

Pat Dolan taking over didn’t really sit right with me. It wasn’t that I didn’t get on with Pat, it’s just that he changed things in a sense that he brought in fitness coaches and brought in a very professional regime.

“In fairness to Pat, he had a positive outlook on things. He created all this ‘Super Saints… Saintsmania’ stuff promoting the club. Dolan was great as regards to promoting the league and generating interest in Pat’s and having professional standards. But back then, I just didn’t have that ‘professional’ upbringing. It was a big shock to the system.

Pat Dolan 28/7/1998 Billy Stickland / INPHO Pat Dolan took over from Brian Kerr at Richmond Park and won the title in his second season in 1998. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“It felt like full-time professionalism, but I had my job as well as a porter. It just didn’t sit with me and a lot of us players were uneasy with this new regime. Pat was just expecting a lot more and looking back on it, he was probably right. The whole league did need to get a lot more professional and grow up if we wanted to compete on a European level and be getting lads over to England.”

He moved onto Shamrock Rovers, making over 50 appearances. It was a side filled with quality, Morrisroe says, but one which failed to live up to its potential and was ultimately pipped to the title by his old club St Pat’s in 1998 and again in 1999.

I had a great time at Rovers, because we had a fantastic squad,” he explains. “It was a team good enough to win the league, in my opinion. But we kind of didn’t fulfil our potential. We played Friday nights in Tolka Park and I think some lads were concentrating on going to Club M in Temple Bar that night. Priories weren’t exactly on the job at hand,” he laughs.

“We had Marc Kenny, Derek Tracey, Gino Brazil, Paul Whelan, Mark O’Neill, Tony O’Dowd in goal, Tommy Dunne, Jason Sherlock. Phenomenal squad. But in fairness to St Pat’s, their professionalism and fitness regimes under Pat Dolan paid off. We didn’t quite hit our potential at Rovers.

“When we played well, we were brilliant. I remember we beat Dundalk 5-1 one time and absolutely obliterated them. But the next week we might lose to Finn Harps. Consistency was our issue. That’s the way Rovers was at the time. We were playing at Tolka Park and it was a bit unsettled. The fans boycotted the ground.

“I didn’t really have a bond with the Rovers fans the same way I did with Pat’s. No-where near. The Rovers fans are a bit more fickle, they seem to think they have an entitlement to win things. They think they deserve to win a league, just because they’re Shamrock Rovers. That’s the sense I got when I was there.

Brian Morrisroe Shamrock Rovers 28/12/1997 © Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Morrisroe made over 50 appearances for Shamrock Rovers. © Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

“They used to be outside the ground after games. We might be going for a pint after matches at the bar in Tolka Park and the fans outside would be losing it, going crazy if you didn’t win on the night. They’d be abusing you saying ‘you were fucking shite tonight!’ And these were supposed to be our own supporters. That sort of stuff would play on your mind.

“It was so in-your-face and so intense. It just didn’t sit right with me. I loved playing for my manager Mick Byrne and I loved playing for my team-mates, but the fans were horrible sometimes. It’s terrible and it shouldn’t be like that, but that was just my experience of the fans.

Pats’ professionalism under Dolan in the years I went away came through and paid off. They had a fantastic squad with players like Trevor Molloy and Ian Gilzean. They are my regrets, I should have stayed with Pat’s. I should have three league winners’ medals, and I have one. That’s the way it goes. You try not to have too many regrets, but those little things do stick in your head.”

Morrisroe would spend two years with Dundalk in the First Division, a season with Athlone and one with Dublin City, before walking away from League of Ireland football. He was brought back by his old friend Liam Buckley for one last season at the age of 37 with Sporting Fingal, where Morrisroe was named man-of-the-match on his debut in a 4-0 win against Monaghan United.

You always think you could have won more, he says. Sometimes it can be hard to focus on what you have when the sun seems to be shining more brightly somewhere else, dwelling on the regret of a missed opportunity or the wrong club. But not many players’ have won even one league title, he accepts.

Jason Sherlock (Rovers) shoots ahead of Paul Hegarty (Derry) 20/9/1998 Andrew Paton / INPHO Jason Sherlock (left) was a team-mate at Shamrock Rovers. Andrew Paton / INPHO / INPHO

Reflecting on the highs and lows of a League of Ireland career spent in what many would characterise as the domestic league’s heydays during the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s important to focus on the good times, because there were many.

Morrisroe still attends games at Richmond Park, and says that winning a league title having been plucked from obscurity in the Leinster Senior League with a club that possesses a strong character and family-feel like the one at Richmond Park makes those trips down memory lane even sweeter to recollect.

He constantly refers the management of Brian Kerr, citing his sheer relentless passion and attention to detail as hallmarks of St Pat’s success. Often referred to as “the team of the 1990s” in Ireland, the side would win league titles in 1990, 1996, 1998 and 1999.

I think what made that team so special was the work ethic that Brian instilled in us,” Morrisroe says. “Brian was a lunatic in the dressing room. He hated losing, absolutely hated losing.

“I remember playing with fear in the team at that time. I would have been in my early 20s and a lot of the lads were senior pros at that stage, guys with league winners’ medals. The likes of Johnny McDonnell, Ricky O’Flaherty, Eddie Gormley. They all played with no fear, but whereas I found it a bit more difficult.

KillianM2 / YouTube

“But Brian just demanded the best out of everyone and his demands were met, because he got the best out of everyone. He certainly got the best of of me. I was plucked from obscurity to suddenly being a league winner and being an important player in the team playing every week. To me it was a meteoric rise and it was down to Brian and Noel O’Reilly, who was a fantastic coach too.

“It was tough, they were there to get the best out of you whether you liked it or not and even though we were part-time, it felt like another job with the high standards that were expected. At times you did feel a bit on your own because if you weren’t playing well, people didn’t really give a fuck about you, that’s the way it was.

So it was down to momentum, Brian’s management and the sheer quality of the players we had at the time. You had to be up to it. If you weren’t — and if you weren’t playing well going into half-time in a game — Brian would be fucking things around the dressing room — water bottles, boots, bags, he’d be up-ending tables. He was a fucking lunatic. An absolute lunatic. But a genius and the best manager I ever had.”

Now coaching with Cherry Orchard’s Under 12 side and having spent a number of years playing for the FAI’s Master’s team against players like Jan Kollar, Ivica Olić and Vladimir Smicer, that same passion for football in any capacity at any level, has never waned or diminished.

Brian Morrisroe St. Patrick's Athletic. 18/7/1996 © Matt BrowneINPHO Morrisroe now manages Cherry Orchard's Under 12 team and relishes coaching the next generation. © Matt BrowneINPHO

“Winning the league in 1996 has to be my proudest achievement,” Morrisroe concludes. “Way out there. I was very lucky to have had so many memories in my career in football. The whole experience was incredible, and it’s still going now with the coaching. I’m going off to play an over 35s match later on today. I won’t stop until I can’t walk anymore.

In 10 years’ time I’ll be 57-years-old and still playing and in a lot of pain. But no pain, no gain. To be a part of that league-winning squad just makes me so proud. The characters that we had in that squad and the Pat’s fans, everything to do with it — I just love that club.

“Even to go back down there to Inchicore for a match now is brilliant. I’m going to the game against Shamrock Rovers next Friday at Richmond Park, without a shadow of a doubt. I’ll be there and will be praying for a Pat’s win.”

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