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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 28 October 2020
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The father-son brain trust behind Corofin's 30 years of Galway dominance

Frank and David Morris have been central figures in the Corofin success story.

Corofin celebrate their Connacht final victory over Ballintubber last year.
Corofin celebrate their Connacht final victory over Ballintubber last year.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

COROFIN ARE A club that tend to stay ahead of the curve.

Veteran defender Kieran Fitzgerald, who turns 39 in January, is representing them at senior level since 1998. So rather than putting him through the same training as his much younger team-mates, the 2001 All-Star manages his physical exertions by working smarter with a bespoke plan designed specifically for his needs.

He stays away from pumping iron in the gym, instead focusing on mobility exercises. A good deal of his conditioning work is done away from the field, reducing the risk of injury by keeping off his feet and using the rower and spin bike. Fitzgerald is chasing his 14th county medal later today, so it’s clearly working. 

kieran-fitzgerald-lifts-the-andy-merrigan-cup Corofin's Kieran Fitzgerald lifts the Andy Merrigan Cup. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Then consider the sight of goalkeeper Bernard Power soloing the ball past his 45m line under the Hogan Stand in this year’s All-Ireland club final before planting a perfectly executed foot-pass into the path of a Corofin attacker. 

Power is evidently encouraged to play the game as he sees fit.

A year ago when Corofin were a point behind in the Galway SFC decider in the dying moments, Power joined their attack and was almost their furthest player forward when the equaliser flew over the bar. 

Earlier this year, a couple of short months after the Galway kingpins retained the Andy Merrigan Cup, former Galway United manager Shane Keegan was brought into the set-up to take some training sessions. Corofin wanted Keegan to put his soccer expertise towards helping improve their spatial awareness, decision-making and pressing.

“The open-mindedness with which everybody approached the sessions was fantastic and maybe gives some insight to why they have been so successful,” wrote Keegan in his Times Ireland column.

The man who picked up the phone and invited Keegan to their inner-sanctum was David Morris. He may not be well-known outside of Galway, but many credit Morris as being the brains behind Corofin’s free-flowing, expansive style of football.

Like his father Frank before him, David has been a driving factor in the Corofin success story. 

The back-to-back All-Ireland champions are chasing a seventh Galway SFC crown in succession this afternoon. They haven’t been beaten inside the county in 43 games and are hoping to land a historic third All-Ireland club title in-a-row early next year. 

In total, the club have won 20 Galway titles, prevailed in Connacht nine times and lifted four All-Irelands. It’s been a remarkable period of sustained dominance – even more so when you consider that at the start of 1991 they only had three county titles to their name.

In the 1980s, Frank Morris set the wheels in motion for the sustained excellence that was to come. He completely revamped Corofin’s underage structure, effectively operating as a director of football decades before the title became common in clubs around the country. 

A club secretary at the time, Morris was a deep-thinker of the game. He ensured the focus was on perfecting the basic skills. It was the dawning of a culture that has survived ever since. 

frank-morris-16112000 Corofin's Frank Morris pictured in 2000. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

By the early 1990s, Corofin started to pile up Galway minor titles. Their U18 side won eight county championships in succession between 1992 and 1999, providing a steady conveyor belt of talent for the senior team. 

Corofin lost senior county finals in ’88 and ’90, before they eventually ended a 14-year famine in 1991. They went on to enjoy provincial glory with the season ending at the All-Ireland semi-final stage the following spring. 

Corofin lifted the Connacht title again in ’95 and fell again at the last four of the All-Ireland series later in that campaign. When they finally got over the line and delivered the Andy Merrigan Cup in ’98, a side captained by Ray Silke, the core of the side had come through the hands of Frank Morris at underage level.

Nine of their team were still U21, which pointed to a bright future ahead. 

And so it transpired.

Corofin continued to collect county titles at a rapid pace and then Frank’s son David emerged on the scene in the early noughties. The younger Morris was goalkeeper on the Galway U21 team that defeated Dublin in the 2002 All-Ireland final, their first victory at the grade since 1972.

Dublin’s side that afternoon featured Stephen Cluxton, Alan Brogan, Conal Keaney, Paul Casey, Barry Cahill and Darren Magee. But that crew were beaten by a Tribe outfit that included Joe Bergin and Michael Meehan and was managed by John O’Mahony.

David Morris went on to represent the club with distinction at senior level as their dominance continued, occasionally featuring outfield after Power’s emergence between the posts.

In 2010, Corofin fell short in their three-in-a-row bid but prevailed by 1-7 to 0-9 against Micheal Breathnach’s in the league final that November after a famous late score from Morris.

david-morris Corofin goalkeeper David Morris during the 2011 Galway SFC final. Source: Cathal Noonan

Minutes before the finish, Morris had been switched out of goals to the full-forward line as Corofin desperately searched for a winner and he struck gold in stoppage-time to seal the win. He had a knack of coming up trumps for Corofin when they needed it.

In the 2011 county final, Morris was the hero when he pulled off a vital second-half penalty save as Corofin saw-off Tuam Stars to take their 14th Galway SFC title. 

In the 2013 Kilmacud Sevens final, after they’d lost to St Gall’s in both the two previous years, goalkeeper Morris smashed home a late penalty to hand a Corofin selection victory over the Antrim side.

By that stage, Morris had moved to the sideline when it came to championship matters. It quickly became clear that he didn’t lick his coaching acumen off the ground.

He was joint-manager with Stephen Rochford when they defeated Salthill-Knocknacarra in the county final later that year, before later slipping into the background as coach with Rochford assuming the number one role.

Rochford’s arrival was significant for Corofin, who were traditionally a team based on defensive solidity with a direct approach. But Rochford and Morris hatched a plan to turn the club into a primarily offensive outfit. 

stephen-rochford Stephen Rochford during a training session with Corofin ahead of the All-Ireland club final in 2015. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They designed a style of play heavy on kick-passing and movement, a common philosophy to be used by teams right through the underage grades. The La Masia of Gaelic football was created. 

“Right now Corofin want all of their teams to play the same style of football through the ranks: a brand, if you like,” explained Silke earlier this year. “One hop pass into space and try and feed the full-forward line.” 

Simple, devastating, attacking football.

Their second All-Ireland crown followed in 2015 and even when Rochord left to take up the Mayo job that winter, Corofin didn’t miss a beat.

Word of David Morris’s coaching acumen soon began to spread beyond football country in Galway.

When Micheal Donoghue served as coach with the Tipperary hurlers in 2015, he convinced manager Eamon O’Shea to bring in Morris to help them perfect the tackle. He reportedly left a very positive impression with the Premier players. 

Donoghue took charge of Galway the following season and brought in Morris as part of his analysis team. He played a key role behind the scenes for their All-Ireland success in 2017.

Corofin added two further All-Irelands under Kevin O’Brien, as coach David Morris continued to work his magic on the training field with Frank Morris overseeing the underage operations.

Corofin reached footballing nirvana in their 2018 All-Ireland final dismantling of Cork giants Nemo Rangers with one of the greatest team goals ever witnessed at Croke Park.

The continuity between the grades was never more obvious than on St Patrick’s Day earlier this year, when the seniors and U12s produced swashbuckling moves for two goals of remarkable similarity.

Morris remains in situ under O’Brien as Corofin look to become just the third side in Galway senior football to complete the seven-in-a-row, equalling the achievements of St Grellan’s, Ballinasloe (1913-19) and Tuam Stars (1954-60).

Frank Morris started the process over three decades ago and remains in place to this day as coaching officer for the underage club. His son David enjoyed success on the field in the early 2000s and helped bring things to another level at senior grade in the past decade.

The great American fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote: “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”

It’s in the spirit of the Morris father-son combination that the Corofin revolution was born and prospered. 

And it ain’t stopping anytime soon. 

  • Galway SFC final: Corofin v Tuam Stars, Tuam Stadium, 3.30pm

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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