Craig Morgan excited ahead of All Ireland decider
By Cian O’Connell
Craig Morgan knows all about what can happen when Tipperary and Cork collide. Possibilities always exist, but Saturday’s Bord Gais Energy All Ireland Under 20 decider at the LIT Gaelic Grounds glimmers with intrigue.
Tipperary, boosted by last weekend’s stirring senior success face a polished Cork outfit eager to respond following a bitterly disappointing finish to the Munster final.
Morgan was a second half substitute when Tipperary enjoyed a splendid triumph over Cork in the All Ireland Under 21 final and acknowledges the history shared by the current crop of players in both counties.
“I suppose at minor we had two great battles Semple Stadium and Páirc Uí Rinn,” Morgan recalls. “We'd the draw in Semple Stadium and they beat us in the replay. Last year as well they beat us in the Munster final and we pipped them in the All-Ireland final.
“But I suppose look every year is different all the time, it's a new year all the time. Players improve at different rates and I suppose this year is what I could call a new year. Basically players will be improving and everything else, they have different abilities each year. It's going to be a good battle for us again.”
The celebrations continue following the blue and gold victory at Croke Park, but Morgan is remaining firmly focused on the impending Under 20 assignment.
“Yeah exactly, we haven't won anything yet,” Morgan states. “After the seniors winning you have to go back into your own shell or bubble or whatever and focus on what has to come because there's a big challenge coming for us now.
“This is a great Cork team. We know how good they are. We need to have our feet on the ground and be in the right frame of mind going into this match.”
Kilruane MacDonaghs remain a famous outfit in Tipperary with Premier county teams at all levels flecked with hurlers from the club.
“I suppose the people we have in Kilruane are great hurling men,” Morgan admits. “I'd be here all day if I was to name all the people that have got me to where I am and I suppose the rest of the lads.
“They're just great Tipp people that love the sport. I suppose each year we have three or four lads, five lads, that come in, that will try to do their best for their club. We've a lot of lads to thank. We've Gilbert Williams who has been coaching me there since I've been eight years of age.
“He was a teacher of mine in primary school so it's great to be able to pay back those lads. So to captain of the team it'd be great to bring that cup back to Cloughjordan and be great to see everyone and show them that all the hard work that they put into us has paid off.”
The O’Shea brothers have influenced several emerging players from the club too according to Morgan. “Billy O'Shea is our manager with Kilruane seniors and stuff,” Morgan adds. “Eamon was involved with us last year with the seniors, it is great to be able to get guidance and advice from lads like the calibre of that.
“Yeah it has definitely helped us coming up through the ages. It has improved us as players, hopefully next weekend we can pay them back.
“When Eamon came in first you think that this lad has worked with some of the best hurlers that have ever played for Tipperary. I suppose it is a bit surreal at the time. This lad has dealt with some of the best players ever, maybe like Lar Corbett and all of the rest of them. It was great to be able to listen to him and his views of the game.
“Being able to take in what he sees, you wouldn't understand yourself until he says it. It was brilliant to be able to get him coaching us for last year, to be able to see his view of the game.
“You would learn stuff that maybe you didn't even think or see yourself. Other people mightn't even see, that just shows the calibre of people we have in Kilruane.”
It meant that the North Tipperary title secured in 2018 mattered deeply to everyone associated with Kilruane MacDonaghs. “After winning the North last year we were disappointed we didn't go a bit further in the County Championship, but that is the way it goes. Hopefully in the coming year we can go that step further.
“I think it was 28 or 29 years since we won the North. I was only 19 at the time, I remember seeing people from Cloughjordan how excited and happy they were. It made me realise how long it has been.
“Lads in Kilruane have put great effort into underage and senior set-ups for the past how many years, it was brilliant to see something like that come back to Cloughjordan again. It was just brilliant to see how happy they were and how much it means to the people of Kilruane, Ardcroney, and Cloughjordan.”
Whether in the jersey of Kilruane MacDonaghs, Mary I or Tipperary Morgan relishes the challenge of being involved in critical contests.
Under Jamie Wall’s guidance at Mary I, Morgan learned plenty operating in the Fitzgibbon Cup performing alongside established senior players such as Aaron Gillane and Luke Meade.
“When you go in there it is different again,” Morgan states. “You are learning new things off new players all of the time. In the Fitzgibbon Cup you have Luke Meade and Aaron Gillane, two standout senior hurlers at the moment. The way they deal with the game and the build up, you listen to a bit of advice before the match.
“You'd always take it in for your own personal ways to be able to maybe use it for other things at home, even for the 20s here or in your club. Just to show the views that other people have had, to spread it.
“Jamie is brilliant, I had Jamie for first and second year in college. He has been great for the college teams. We all have a close connection with Jamie. He is a true inspiration, to be able to come back from what has happened with everything else.
“It is a great achievement for him to win a Fitzgibbon with Mary I, he is going up the ladder now training and everything else.”
So too is Morgan, who is providing signs of his significant potential for Tipperary. Cork are next on the agenda in a high stakes game that will attract a large and interested audience to the Limerick venue on Saturday evening.
“It is why you play hurling, it is for big days like this and everything else,” Morgan acknowledges. “We are excited for it now.”