Eight days ago, I was in the middle of a lecture when my mobile phone buzzed that sound it makes when somebody sends you a message. Given how often I berate students for texting in class, I was loath to even acknowledge it was going off. Then it went again. And again. So, assuming it might be some sort of emergency, I discretely flipped it out of my bag and onto the desk. The urgent message was from my 14 year old son Abe. Nobody was in hospital. Nobody was in danger. No, it was much more important than that.
The message was a video he’d taken from the television while watching Manchester United taking on Cambridge United in an FA Cup fourth round replay. It showed my first cousin Gearoid Morrissey coming on as a substitute for Cambridge in the second half. With the number 23 on his back, he was making his professional debut for the English club at Old Trafford. What a moment for him. What a moment for his family. A boy from Mahon, one of the most put-upon suburbs in Cork city, taking the first step in the next phase of his sporting life at one of the great cathedrals of the world game.
I was standing at a lectern on a campus in Long Island as I played and replayed the video but my thoughts were three thousand miles away with Gearoid’s parents, my Uncle Ger and his wife Marian. Given how proud and moved I was by the sight of a first cousin taking the field, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for his mother and father to be watching on telly. To be looking on as the little kid they first saw kick a ball with Ringmahon Rangers, his local club, ran out there to compete with some of the best players in the world in a game being watched all over the planet.
Then I thought about all my other relatives and what they must have been feeling at that moment. My mother’s family are steeped in soccer. Her father Tommy played for Cork United in the 1940s – indeed I was long ago given a heavy woollen jersey of his as an heirloom. Between then and now, we’ve togged out for clubs all over the city and county, generations of us. And when we did, some of us even dreamed that maybe we were talented enough to go all the way. Of course, we weren’t.
Still, watching Gearoid strut his stuff, I started to list off all the clubs his relatives have played for. It’s a long list. Casement Celtic, Ballincollig, Kilreen Celtic, Western Rovers, Crofton Celtic, Glasheen, Wilton United, Courtown United, Dominic Rovers, Bishopstown United, UCC Academicals, Leeds United, Passage, Douglas Hall, Grange Vale. Some of those clubs don’t even exist anymore but reeling off the names brought home to me for just how many decades members of the extended Morrissey family have played the game. And, now, here, finally, one of us was out there on the biggest stage of all.
Gearoid has made us all feel this pride before. I remember watching on a laptop as he played for an Irish youths team in a European championship some years back. And, this past few seasons, our interest in Cork City, even from afar, went up a serious notch due to his presence in the middle of the club’s midfield. He has work to do now to establish himself in the Cambridge first team but for one glorious night last week, his Morrissey kin all over Cork and, indeed the world, were walking with their chests puffed out. Dowtcha boy!