Long before Tom Morrissey’s proudest day as a hurler on the 19th of August 2018, he’d played countless All-Irelands in the back lawn. With his twin Paddy and eldest brother Dan, there was “definitely a few belts” as they fought tooth and nail with each other from an early age.
“All my hurling influences are close to home,” Tom explains. “My father Donal was always involved with us from a young age, coaching us, and driving us to matches.
“Myself, Paddy and Dan would be out the back from a young age, and being a twin there was an intense rivalry there with Paddy. Especially because I’m a forward and he’s a back and we would have been marking each other a lot in training all the way up. We nearly bring the best out of each other. You have the goalposts in the garden, and we’d be playing matches out there, and some of them of course end in fights and tears! Those were the good days though. Paddy would probably be the crankiest when we were playing, and probably still is to this day on the field with the club!”
“But going to the matches with our father, both to see Ahane and Limerick, is where I got my love of the game. Dan is three years older than me and he would have been an influence too, following in his footsteps. He was always a step ahead because he was older — whether it was the Tony Forristal competition or minor, I was then following in his path.”
Morrissey was nominated for an All Star as Limerick lifted the Liam MacCarthy in 2018, and there’s little doubting how much effort he puts into this pursuit of passion. When he’s not at the gym, meeting up with the panel, or practicing his ball skills, the 23-year-old find ways to relax away from the sport.
“I’m in college doing a masters in tax, and I’ve spent a lot of the summer doing my thesis,” he explains. “I’d be fairly normal other than that — I’d be a big man for relaxing, and I could easily spend a day relaxing on the couch watching TV or reading a book. Chilling with friends, of course, and I enjoy a night out too, which is something you’d do more so in winter because you can’t really during the season.”
“I like golf, but I wouldn’t play enough; Barry Nash is very good though. I really like surfing too — I’ve a friend who is big into it and you could go down to west Clare, maybe Doonbeg or Lahinch. When I get a few days at it, I’m not so bad; when I don’t do it for a while, it’s hard to do. A bit like the golf. It’s some craic though, and it’s unreal being on a board in the sea.”
The old saying about reading is that it allows you to travel in a way you could never know, and perhaps you can get an insight into a person by the type of books they leaf through.
“I’d be big into sports psychology and finance books,” Morrissey says. “‘Why The Rich Are Getting Richer’ by Robert Kiyosaki — it’s about his philosophies on people getting rich through investing, and it’s interesting to read about it. ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell would be another one, and then ‘The Barcelona Way’ (by Damian Hughes). I find ‘The Barcelona Way’ interesting because it’s all about Pep Guardiola and how he was always trying to get an edge and get a winning culture — something we’re also trying to do.”
“Guardiola masterminded an unreal culture there and it was over a prolonged period, even when they might have been struggling. Even reading individuals’ sports books, I just have a general interested. Fantasy books too.”
“Yeah! Harry Potter is my number one, a dead cert, nearly my favourite overall. I like the idea of reading a book where you can escape reality for a while. I’ve watched ‘Game of Thrones’ and I’m thinking about starting on the books, but that would be a mammoth read!”
As 2019 rolled on, it felt as though a huge current was building beneath this Limerick team, and that they would surge over any obstacle in their path. The All-Ireland champions of 2018 made light work of Waterford in the league final, absorbed a couple of blows in Munster before battering Tipp in the provincial decider, and looked set for more glory.
Morrissey is first to admit that they were slow to start against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, and going nine points down early on cost them down the stretch. Of course, the fact that they lost by just a single point, and a refereeing decision that might have allowed them to equalise went against them, made it all the more difficult.
The Ahane man was in All Star territory before the clash with the Cats but found the going hard as the middle sector of the field was overrun with black and amber shirts, and ultimately John Kiely replaced one of his most trusted lieutenants. As Darragh O’Donovan manicured the grass and propped the sliotar up on top to take a sideline cut in the final moments, knowing a point would give Limerick a reprieve, Morrissey was a full width of the field away.
He didn’t see Cillian Buckley’s hurley deflect the ball out for what should have been a ‘65, for what should have been a chance for Diarmaid Byrnes or Aaron Gillane to equalise, and only later understood why so many of his teammates were so frustrated.
“The first 20 minutes, they bossed us — the hits were massive and we were struggling to match it,” says Morrissey. “They went 1-8 to 0-2 up and I think our main disappointment at that stage was that we hadn’t put up more of a score, maybe another two or three points and the gap would have been closer. But we left ourselves too much to do. If that sideline (that should have led to a ‘65) had happened earlier in the game, you’d get over it,” he adds. “You would still have time to make it up. The fact that it was the last puck makes it a harder pill to swallow. Maybe the sideline cut had been going wide, or maybe we might have hit the ‘65 wide, but you’d be holding out hope.”
“Like, you train so hard and sacrifice so much, for an obvious decision to be taken out of your control and you have no say in it, that makes it tougher and more frustrating. But look, people are human, us players make mistakes, and refs are human too, so it was just unfortunate. I didn’t have a good view of it because I was over on the bench at that stage. The dressing-room afterwards was just devastation. Some of the lads started to get videos on social media of the sideline and we saw how blatant the touch was. We could see the reaction of Darragh and Brian Geary who were doing the hurleys beside where it happened. Anyone who had a good view knew there was a touch.”
As bitter a pill as it was to swallow, Morrissey knows that in time he’ll be able to enjoy the positives that 2019 brought. The league and Munster titles were added earlier in the year, meaning the county held all three major crowns at once for the first time in 82 years.
“When you think of the magnitude of that, you appreciate it. And losing the semi-final by a point, it just whets your appetite to come back stronger.”
“The sport is evolving, no different to any other sport. We’ve had a similar approach for the past two years and I think it works for us, but we’ll have to make some tweaks. Our fundamentals won’t change.”