This Sunday, reigning All-Ireland champions Limerick, will travel to Semple Stadium to take on Tipperary on their home turf. A crucial game for both sides, as there are spots in the Munster Final up for grabs. Both teams have been highly impressive so far during the Round Robin stages of the Championship, and we are guaranteed a cracking match this weekend.
The Limerick forwards are every defender’s worst nightmare. Amongst the pack, is Ahane club man Tom Morrissey, who has already made his mark on this year’s Championship. Sunday will be a split day in the Morrissey household as Tom and his brother Dan – who is also on the Limerick panel – will be sporting the green of the Treaty, but their father is a Tipperary man.
“He is from Cashel and is absolutely sports mad. He’s always been involved in our local GAA club, my mother is as well. Dan came first, so he was already playing hurling before me. When my twin brother and I came along, we were out in the back garden the whole time – it didn’t matter what sport it was: soccer, rugby, hurling – we played them all. From a young age, I always knew hurling was the one sport that I was most skilled at.
“My twin brother Patrick is my toughest opponent. There is always an extra bit of bite when we mark each other at training. You don’t want to go home having lost that battle. It is definitely the most competitive battle I’ve ever had. When we were young fellas, and if Limerick weren’t doing too well, we would have been dragged along to Tipperary games. We maybe would have shouted for them. But only the odd time!”
The Shannonsiders and The Premier have a rivalry that runs deep. Back in 2007, the two teams played out a trilogy of games in the Munster Semi-Final. Having drawn twice, it was forced to a third replay, and a victory eventually went to Limerick. Tom has fond memories of the day.
“I remember being in the Gaelic Grounds in 2007. It was so intense and Limerick won in the very end, by two or three points, I think. There was a pitch invasion even before the final whistle. They definitely went to ‘Plan B’ in the Gaelic Grounds that day. It was such an occasion for Limerick to beat Tipperary at home and to reach a Munster Final, the scenes afterwards were absolutely unbelievable.
“After the two drawn games before, it was a huge win. The game got so much attention, and to come out on top after all the build-up and it was such a tight game, it is the best sporting memory I have growing up. I managed to get onto the pitch and sneak into the tunnel of the dressing room. My club mate, who I still hurl with now, Niall Moran, played for the Limerick Seniors at the time and would have been the fella I looked up to the most growing up. I managed to get his jersey so it was extra special. It’s definitely still at home somewhere!”
Aside from hurling, Tom also has a busy life off the pitch. After completing four years of business in the University of Limerick, he is now studying a Masters in tax, also in UL. A true multi-tasker, during the opening stages of the Championship, Tom had not one, not two, but four exams. And it doesn’t stop there. If Limerick make the All-Ireland Final, aiming for back to back titles, August is going to be a busy month for Morrissey. The exams may be done by then, but a thesis still has to be handed in. With so many commitments to both his county and his career, how does Tom stay so motivated?
“I am a competitive person, and I like to do well. Anything I have done, I have never wanted to be average. I always wanted to be the best and also be with the best. I am always looking for areas in my performance that I can improve. That’s the kind of message I always say to myself, not just in hurling but in all aspects of my life. It can be anything really, be it study, career-wise or sports-wise; you always have to challenge yourself to try and improve and develop yourself.
“A Masters in tax may not be for everyone, but I find it so interesting. Switching off at times it the most difficult thing to do, but it’s actually hugely important. Sport is great because it gives you a break from it. When you are out on the training field or playing a match, you focus on everything in that moment, that you completely forget about study for an hour or so. I think for myself personally, it’s when I study or perform best. When I get a chance to clear the head and try to balance the two. It ends up being a healthy balance of sport and work. That’s what really drives me both on and off the pitch. There is no real drive for titles and medal or anything like that, the most important part is constantly improving yourself.”
Tom knows all too well that hard work pays off. This will be his fifth year on the Limerick panel, and it was only last year, that he gained himself a spot on the starting 15.
“2018 was my first year getting a regular starting place. I did three years on the panel, where I was coming on as a sub. That can be frustrating for a player. When you’re pushing yourself, night after night, you don’t see yourself getting the reward of game-time, it can be mentally frustrating – a big hurdle for some players. If you keep plugging away hoping that you get your chance, the reward will one day come. Once you do get it, it’s up to you to keep it.
“I used to build games up a lot more when I was younger and all it did was add pressure. An unnecessary kind of stress. In recent years, I just try to focus on myself and to have a more laid-back approach to games. I try not to think about it too much. I wouldn’t be a fella who would be thinking about the match in the week coming up to it. I keep myself busy and occupy myself doing other things, and when the match comes you just go out and play it.”
The youth of Limerick hurlers was heavily highlighted last year after their All-Ireland success, with the average age of the team being 23. Though for Tom, they are not only teammates but the best of friends.
“The best part of competing in hurling is the fact that it’s a team sport. You are competing with a team but also with a bunch of friends. You can’t beat the comradery amongst your teammates. I know they say when you finish, that’s probably the thing you miss the most. I can see exactly why. You have so much craic and banter at training, and of course, you have the nights out together as well. You create such a great group of friends through hurling.
“Nothing can surpass the 19th of August last year for us. It was absolutely unbelievable. When the final whistle went, I think the first 3 or 4 minutes after were such a euphoric buzz. We were all running around the place like mad-men hugging each other. When I got the Hogan Stand steps, I met my parents, my brothers and two of my uncles.
“That was then the emotion really hit home. There were tears in all of our eyes. They influenced my commitment by always being there. Just being able to drop me to training and collect me. My mother was a non-stop taxi. They are a rock of constant support really, through the good days but more importantly the bad days, they’re there for you. When you do encounter those difficult situations in sports or you’re that little bit low, they’re the ones that keep you going.”