Cillian Morrison: 'Going into full-time football at Cork, you're taken back down to earth with the quality and the competition'

Wed, Sep 12 2018

Cillian Morrison in action during his Cork City days. Credit: Jason O'Callaghan (ETPhotos)

At just 27, Cillian Morrison hasn’t tasted League of Ireland football in almost three years, after departing Derry City in late 2015. However, unlike the vast majority of players who no longer appear at the highest domestic level, the Letterkenny native had a degree from UCD, which today sees him happily employed as a civil engineer.

Schoolboy and U-21 football at Derry City preceded going to UCD under their scholarship programme at the beginning of 2010. Life at Belfield suited Cillian, who more than acknowledges how fortunate he was to be able to combine playing with his studies for the next four and a half years.

“UCD was definitely one of the best decisions I ever made in football and beyond. When I was 15-16, there were lots of guys going over to England on trials, but they’re back now. I never got an offer to go across, so I kept my head down and kept playing underage for Derry around the time I was doing my Leaving Cert.

"I had trials at UCD, while Martin Russell was manager and thankfully, I got a scholarship out of it. You’re put up in a house on campus with other guys from the team. You go to your lectures during the day and then work with a quality manager, in Martin.

"When I was there, Ciarán Kilduff, Greg Bolger, Evan McMillan and Keith Ward were around and had won the First Division. They took me under their wing. I had the security of getting a degree under my belt and can’t speak highly enough of that programme.”

While impressive displays in the Students’ colours coincided with his studies nearing conclusion, the young forward seeking a fresh on-field challenge, linked up with Cork City in mid-2014. Despite joining a team fighting on all fronts, Morrison found the going at a full-time set-up trickier than anticipated, resulting in him featuring in less than a third of that season’s run-in.

“I’d done very well at UCD – scoring goals and regularly in the team. It was no secret in League of Ireland circles that I was finishing my degree and I spoke to a couple of clubs. Cork City and John Caulfield were second in the league, so I went down and was shown around.

"I was underage with Johnny Dunleavy, so I knew someone at the club and it was a straightforward option for me. I found the transition from part-time football difficult, with training every day taking a lot out of me. I was very tired in the evenings and by the time Friday came around.

"It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I remember during my debut against Sligo, I was very lethargic. I’d trained really well all week, went into the game not feeling great and got taken off at half-time. Going into full-time football at Cork, you’re taken back down to earth, with the quality and competition in the team.

"The final game of the season, playing Dundalk away, in what was essentially a decider, I was left out of the squad … That really hurt. I spoke to John, as there was interest from Derry. He’s a very good manager, but ruthless as well. He said: ‘You can stay with us if you want or go to Derry.’

"He wasn’t exactly fighting to keep me, so I thought that I might as well go to Derry. They had a good team, it was close to home, so I went with that. It would have been nice to know that if I had stayed in Cork, how would it have turned out, but such is life.”

Signed by Peter Hutton to replace Rory Patterson for the 2015 campaign was never going to be a simple task and so it proved, with the Candystripes finishing a disappointing seventh in the Premier Division.

“Looking through that squad, I knew they had some very good players, but for one reason or another, we just never clicked as a team. Derry fans are very loyal and they let you know if things are going well, but also if they’re not. It didn’t go well that season and I knew from my time in the League of Ireland, how it’s a fickle business.

"Like my six months at Cork, it wasn’t plain sailing at Derry either. I had an option from Rory Gallagher, the Donegal GAA manager at the time, to come in and train, with the aim to play for him and I agreed. I’d tried the League of Ireland thing and it was time to put it on ice for a while. It was definitely with a heavy heart, but in life you just have to make decisions and live with it.”

These days, Cillian juggles GAA with soccer for Letterkenny Rovers and a full-time job, but refuses to declare a reappearance in the League of Ireland is entirely out of the question.

“It’s definitely something I wouldn’t rule out because of my age. My focus for the last number of years has been on my long-time career, which is engineering. The immediate plan is to stick with that, while playing Gaelic Football and for Letterkenny Rovers.

"They are my local team and I’m playing with guys I grew up with. I wouldn’t dismiss returning to the League of Ireland, but if I did, I’d certainly give it my full time and attention. That’s why it’s not on the cards right now.”