Down’s `Unsung Hero` To Inspire Mourne Squad

MEMORIES of the Mourne county’s Golden Era were rekindled recently with the demise of one of its `immortals’, Brian (known as Breen) Morgan. Indeed, the courage, dedication and tenacity of that `Unsung Hero` should be an inspiration for the present squad in red and black.

Uncle of Ray Morgan, who has coached St Colman’s College sides to many MacRory Cup and Hogan Cup triumphs, Brian was nicknamed the `Rubber-man,` due to his capacity to bounce back from the most bone-crunching tackles.

A leading sportswriter paid this tribute to the brave little battler: “No one ranks higher in Down’s Honours List than Brian Morgan, who has come up against some of the best defenders in Ireland. Yet, despite advantage in height, weight and strength, they knew they were in a match, dealing with dynamite.”

Young Brian was born into a great house for Gaelic football, his father being a founder of the local club, his eldest brother, Dan, having won an All-Ireland Junior Championship medal in 1946, - and later captained the county senior squad, - while three other brothers played for the club side.

During an interview with me, about ten years after the historic breakthrough in 1960, Brian recalled having graduated to the Down senior squad in 1957, along with James McCartan, Paddy Doherty and Tony Hadden, who had been suspended for playing soccer.

On to the Down G.A.A. scene came a personality, Maurice Hayes, - now a senator, member of the Patten Commission, and chairman of the Irish Government’s Forum on Europe. Senator Hayes was to have a far-reaching effect in transforming the men in red and black from a side, perpetually in the doldrums, into a combination that was to revolutionise Gaelic football, and turn tradition on its head.

Brian Morgan commented: “The talent was there all right, but it could just as well have been squandered. The pieces did not just fall into place; it took three years of effort, experiment, persistence and organisation to slot the right man into the best position, and produce the magic formula.

“Maurice Hayes knew precisely where he was going, and predicted that, if we stayed together and co-operated with the team-management, we would win the Sam Maguire Cup. He had confidence in our ability, and there was mutual respect between him and the players.

“We could have got a U.S trip, after winning the All-Ireland title in 1960. But Maurice promised that, if we waited and went on to win in 1961, we would get a holiday that we would never forget. And, true to his word, the Down squad was treated to a six-weeks tour of the U.S.A., with everything laid on. The organisation was superb.” But controversy and disaster was to follow, as Maurice Hayes failed to be re-elected as delegate to the Central Council, at the annual county convention. Paddy McFlynn, who went on to become President of the G.A.A., was chosen instead. Hayes resigned his post as Joint County Secretary, and severed his connection with Down G.A.A., - T.P. Murphy assuming the position of County Secretary.

“It nearly killed that man,” Brian Morgan recalled. “He could not believe that such a thing could happen. Maurice was in line for the post of General Secretary of the G.A.A., left vacant by the death of Padraig O’Keefe. But without easy access to Headquarters at Croke Park, he had no influence.

“Many people regarded it as a stab-in-the-back, for a person regarded as the main architect of the Mourne county’s climb to fame and glory. And it had a very negative effect on the players, who seemed to lose heart. They appreciated the vital role that Maurice had played in their success. We went downhill from then on,” stated Brian Morgan.

The ascent to greatness had begun in 1957, when the Mourne side had beaten the All-Ireland champions, Louth, in a tournament game at Dundalk. The men in red and black began to believe in themselves, a faith reinforced by impressive victories against various southern sides. And the regime of collective training, novel among Northern teams, began to produce results.

Brian Morgan occupied the corner-forward position, - “one of the toughest positions on the field. The full-backs have the advantage, and were on top of you as soon you got the ball. Speed and swift reaction were essential to escape the clutches of tough defenders like Jerome O’Shea of Kerry, Paddy McCormack from Offaly; Jack Kissane of Galway; or Noel O’Reilly from Cavan.

“The Down forwards did not work out any set-pieces beforehand. If a teammate got the ball, we were there to take a pass. And we never stopped to think, but played according to instinct, - to put the defence under pressure. Our half-backs would mount the attacks, with Kevin Mussen, Patsy O’Hagan, Kevin O’Neill or John Smith laying on a long ball with precision, so we would simply run on to it and score.”

Frustrating the high-fielders by over-playing midfield was another tactic adopted by the Mourne side. And Brian Morgan described how Down’s midfield pairing of Joe Lennon and Jarlath Carey had been able to thwart the legendary Mick O’Connell of Kerry by knocking the ball away from him.

Next Page >

© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008