Conor Morgan. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
“Morg was one of my best friends, there was never a dull moment when he was around. He put a smile on my face every day through the slagging matches we had where he was adamant that he was in better physical and academic shape. Though he used to tell me stories at training and in the gym of his hilariously detailed antics in Dublin that week.
“My first memory of Morg was when I played a blitz with the Gaels for the first time. I was young, shy and afraid and I’ve a very vivid memory of Morg being there for me, introducing me to everyone and making me feel welcome. I had the honour of playing on the same pitch as him for 12 years, with the Dundalk Schoolboys League squad and with the Dundalk Gaels. Myself, Morg and a few other younger boys broke into the senior team at a young age, and it was clear to see why the hype around Morg was so big. He was one of the best young corner-backs I’ve ever seen. He was a warrior, he never backed down, he never let us be satisfied in a two/three-point victory - he wanted blood.
“In contrast to that, at the end of the game, he would be the kindest, most generous person you’ll ever meet. I faced Morg numerous times on the soccer pitch when the huge Dundalk derby of Glenmuir and Quay used to take place. He was a rock at the back and I hated facing him, the sheer size of him, even at the tender age of 15 would have scared anyone.
“Moving away from sport, he was a ridiculously popular young man and every time I got the text, saying: ‘pints?’, I knew I was in for a mad night out.
“He was adored in DCU. I had the pleasure of meeting his friends in college and had the pleasure of going out with them all. Most people would shy away from new experiences in college, but not Morg, he took flight, he was the exact same person in Dublin as he was at home: a legend. There’s a hole in my heart that will never be filled, but I know he’ll help me through this hard time. I’ll never forget you Conor. A friend, a team-mate, a legend.
The Gaels’ clubrooms were open without fail throughout last week, as team-mates, clubmen and friends of Conor Morgan’s grouped, in an attempt to come to terms with his tragic passing.
Ultimately, on- and off-field memories were shared and laughs had at past experiences with the man they called ‘Morg’.
Ciarán Murray, a current senior team selector and former coach of Conor in his childhood and teenage years, spoke of how he was becoming a leader all the time.
“Conor had all the attributes and was a very good footballer, but he had a desire, enthusiasm and an ambition, and that very much came across. He just influenced us all, players and mentors.
“You could see how much Conor wanted to play well and how much he wanted the team to win. He could talk the talk and walk the walk, and he was very passionate about playing with the Gaels.
“He was very good fun and certainly was becoming a leader in the Gaels. He had such enthusiasm and desire. He was becoming a leader with the senior team and was absolutely going to be one and a central player over the next five, 10 or 15 years. You need physical players in certain positions and Conor was going to fill one of those rolls.”
He even remembers the beginning.
“I can still see all the faces. We started out our little nursery with this group, the kids born in 1997 and ‘98, in November 2003. I still have the notes that we would have sent out to the schools.”
“The only way I can describe Conor Morgan is a warrior. Thankfully, he was a warrior I had the pride in playing alongside and not against. I went on holidays with him, sat near him in the dressing room and throughout the years had the best craic with him in general. He was more than just a team-mate, he was a friend.
“My earliest memories of Morg stretches back to when we first began training with the Gaels in the Friary Youth Centre through the winter months, before getting on to the pitch like most clubs in early March. Throughout the years, it was safe to say that as a team we had everything but luck, losing in the U16, minor and senior championship semi-finals.
“Despite all the misery, we reached a high in getting to a senior final. However, we fell short again. But it never stopped our belief in attempting to reach the pinnacle and getting our Joe Ward medal. It was only two weeks ago, Morg, Chris (Sweeney) and myself were in the Gaels gym trying to get ourselves in shape for the upcoming matches, discussing the highs and the lows from over the years. We had great memories together, from standing up for each other in on-field bust-ups to the craic we had on nights out. He spoke of how annoyed he was at missing the Sean O’Mahony’s match. He loved the clubs’ healthy disdain as rivals and being one of the few Gaels men in a predominately O’Mahony’s estate, being able to achieve bragging rights over so many of his mates if the Gaels got the victory.
“The last time we took to the field together, I was right half back and he was centre half, the reassurance I had by having him by my side was unbelievable and something I will greatly miss. Thankfully, we only ever crossed paths on the pitch twice: once for the Quay versus Glenmuir (I scored a goal and never let him live it down) and the second time the year he won the Lennon Cup - he was with ‘the Della’ and I with the Marist.
“Morg had an unrivalled self-confidence which I could only admire. He recently told me that my desire for a 2:1 in my degree may be good enough for me, but under no circumstances would he accept it. I will miss Morg with all my heart. He used to brighten up my day by walking through the gates of the Gaels with his boots in hand and smile on his face, sitting down to tell me the craic from Dublin or seeing how I was getting on in college.
“We have lost the life of our group in the Gaels, but I have no doubt that every time we go out on the pitch we will have a 16th man helping us out and I can only hope we can repay him by taking a Joe Ward medal out to Blackrock one day.”
The Murray twins, Óisín and Seán, alongside Conor, won an All-Ireland Freshers medal with DCU in 2017. They remember it as being a particularly proud occasion for his father, Paul.
Óisín says: “The main memory that stands out was winning the Freshers All-Ireland last year with DCU. Obviously, we’d been playing with him all the way through with the Gaels and then to win the All-Ireland was really special.
“Paul, his dad, was so proud of that, to see all of us who he’d been coaching all along winning an All-Ireland.”
According to Seán, his player profile differed immensely from his off-field persona.
“It was sort of a thing with Conor, off the pitch, before a game, obviously, he’d be focusing on the match, but he’d be having a laugh and when we’d walk into the dressing room, Conor would meet us with a big shout. He’d make you laugh and then he’d go out on the pitch and whether it was a match or a training session, if he was tackling you; you were going to feel it. Conor just wouldn’t back down.
“He was the centre of attention. I remember we went to Ennis with the seniors last year and he loved roasting some of the senior players no matter who they were. He was that much of a character.
“His personality stood out because Conor got on well with everyone.”
But, “on the pitch, he was a horse,” Óisín joked.
“I was lucky enough to meet Conor in our school days. His ability to get along with everyone and to never lose the smile on his face was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. A man who was able to find the perfect balance of being top of his class and playing in the numerous GAA and soccer teams he was part of all while being a brilliant friend and being there to help us whenever we needed.
“His amazing energy and positive outlook on life really helped our group of friends through the years as we done the Leaving Cert. Whenever he sensed one of us needed any sort of help, he would be the first man to invite you over and have his beloved chocolate digestives ready with a game of Fifa.
“We spent many nights chatting while playing the playstation, where he’d start off telling us his various tales from staying in Dublin, and every night without fail these would turn into one of his life lessons (just ask Killian Staunton).
“One of our fondest memories together was winning the Lennon Cup in 2014 with the De la Salle. His charisma and work ethic really contributed to the spirit and bond that that squad had.
“For all the laughs we had off the field, we had quite a few battles on it. Whenever I saw his imposing, commanding figure lining out at centre-back in his early days with Quay Celtic, I knew I was in for a torrid afternoon.
“I also had the pleasure of introducing him to my cousin, Aimee. With their similar kind and caring natures, it was no surprise to me to see them hit it off straight away. I cannot put into words how much Morg meant to me and how sorely he will be missed, but I do know that no matter what I do in life, he will be right there spurring me on.”
A juvenile soccer player with Quay Celtic, Paul Black coached Conor for a spell and he recalls him as “just a smashing young lad”.
Elsewhere, a former team-mate of his with the Clancy Park side, but opponent when lining out for St. Joseph’s, Killian Staunton quipped: “He’d hit you and he’d make sure you felt it. He was just fearless.”
Matthew Corcoran of Geraldines, another comrade, but often an opponent, echoed similar sentiments of his playing style: “I remember going out to play the Gaels in the minor league in 2015 where Conor was a year out of his age, and he was midfield, marking me and not only did he do that, but he won the Gaels the match.
“I couldn’t get near him, whether it was in the air or on the ground. Everything I tried he matched and bettered and it was humbling to have your mate teach you a lesson out on the field like that.
“He was a lad who was more driven, determined and mature than everybody on that pitch and that’s what I feel was a great example of him in a sporting sense. But mostly, he was a great friend who I was proud to know.”
“My fondest memory with Conor on the field was that night up in Darver when we won an U16 ‘B’ championship. In the lashing rain, his trojan work, drive and determination brought the Gaels over the line in what was a fantastic day for all us young fellas, to get our hands on a trophy. I remember in the dressing room afterwards, all of us jumping on top of each other and Conor’s dad, Paul, who was our manager, taking photos to capture it all. You could see Paul bursting with pride as he held the cup with Conor and how Paul’s love for the Gaels really fed into Conor. Conor was incredibly talismanic and a leader of men, while his likeability, intelligence and sporting acumen set him out from the crowd as one of a kind.”
Fittingly, after his years of dedication and service to his beloved Gaels, his number four jersey will be honoured for the remainder of the season.