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New approach in a world gone mad?

Story by Paul Fitzpatrick

Thursday, 15th September, 2011 9:30am

New approach in a world gone mad?

"I'm different": John Morrison

Were you approached by Tom Reilly about taking this job?

Well, Tom and Val and it went from there.

And what will you be focusing on?

Well the nominal title that Val has given me is head coach.

Are you looking forward to getting your teeth into it?

Yes, for several reasons. I love the sport, I like to think that I always want to bring the sport on, which is a challenge because Cavan have been a county who showed lots of talent and there's huge passion in Cavan. There's a thirst for success. I've known Val through courses for years and when somebody wants you to join them, it's worth responding to. I'm excited by the prospect... Life never stands still, Gaelic's changing so it will be an experience I'm looking forward to.

You're renowned for your attention to the mental side of the game, is that something you hope to bring with you to Cavan?

I'm a great believer, even in my own job working with schoolchildren helping their learning skills and so on, a lot of coaching should be integrated, a whole holistic approach to it. There's his mental state, there's his skill state, there's his physicality, there's his lifestyle management - all of those are all part of the one thing so I'm one of those people who sort of tends not to have things done in isolation.

My own faith is, where the mind goes, the body follows. In life in general, and it's very true in sport, I might do everything I can with a player and he still might not perform, and it's nothing to do with the training. Sometimes it's to do with the fact that his mother's ill or his job's not going well or he hasn't been working on the physical side or he doesn't know what to do properly. His lifestyle management, poor sleeping patterns, poor diet... Those things, so in a sense, I think that those are the things that Val will look to target...

Telling a team what to do doesn't work, it's really a problem-solving exercise. We're all born with the skills to do that but often in life people aren't allowed to do it.

And there have been problems in Cavan, as I'm sure you know...

Aye, I do. I know Cavan want to win Ulster Championships regularly and to start returning to the glory days of the 40s and so on and win All Irelands. The first thing I would do is change the phrase "problem solving" because it's more a challenge.

It's down to the individual what way they feel. I mean, if you're living in Kerry, you're born expecting to win All Irelands. In most other counties, that expectation's not there. Why not, is my argument.

So it's a kind of oppression almost?

You see we're all products of how we think. Life is dominated by two phrases really, I can and I can't. If you look at it, and it's been proven, 95% of all four-year-olds have massive, massive self-esteem. If me and you were standing with a four-year-old in front of Mount Everest, the four-year-old will tell us, "I can climb that". But by the time that four-year-old is 18, the chances of him having huge self-esteem are down to 5%. Throughout their life, they've heard nothing but negative soundbites. "Don't be doing that, that's wrong, I should have done that myself, will you quit that"...

The bottom line is about giving the Cavan boys an approach to living, themselves, as footballers. Ireland to me, in general, is a put-down country, there's a lot of negativity so we're going to have to start thinking positively. Cavan have got phenomenal passion. Cavan have had phenomenal footballers down through the years and still have, I mean their u21s and minors the past few years for example... There are players there like Seanie Johnston, who is in the top ten, maybe top 20 footballers in Ireland. At the end of the day, like anything else, its a matter of getting the best out of people.

When will you get started?

I would imagine somewhere around the end of this month we'll be starting. Id imagine Val will probably want to name a starting squad, because that's his core, no matter what happens. The first thing we probably will do is meet them one to one.

What would that entail?

The day will be spent sorting out where the players think they are and where they want to go and what they need to get there.

Do you expect to encounter players in Cavan with low self-esteem?

Id imagine that's a perception, I'd also imagine the Seanie Johnstons and the u21s and quite a number of players have a good self-esteem about themselves but it's the perception around them on past results that may not have been what they should be.

The starting point is this: if I go to any footballer up and down the country and ask any footballer, what's your main strength, a lot of them wouldn't be able to tell me because they've never heard them. They're told about the things they're not good at. And my argument is, if you don't know your strengths, you'll not live happily because it's through your strengths that you'll actually progress and fix your weaknesses.

So your philosophy is a lot of common sense...

Well there's an old phrase, sure it's only common sense but then common sense isn't common!

What was your general perception of Cavan football before now?

To be fair to you, I don't have a perception of Cavan. That sounds nonsensical, Cavan in the past any time I played them with teams - the most recent one was with Derry, Eamon Coleman was over Cavan - Cavan teams were as hard to beat as any other. If I start talking about perceptions of Cavan, I'm having a perception of Cavan going in and I'm going to find what I wan t to find. I'm not going to go in with pre-conceived notions, which are biased. That's my starting point. It's a clean sheet, I'm going in to Cavan like its a blank canvas and we'll see what happens.

If you dwell

on the past and worry about it, or worry too much about the future, you actually affect the now. Most things are done in the now and most regrets come because you dwell too much on the past and most mistakes are made because you worry about the future.

I think Cavan have a tendency to live in the past...

A lot of current squads are often the victim of what people perceive from the past, which is unfair - nobody has any control on the past. You can certainly learn from the past, but once you've done that, you move on. You could be at a match and ask me for an opinion and you could say "Jesus John, what match were you at?". Because football's only an opinion, when I hear somebody classed as an expert, I tend to avoid it. Because I don't think there are such things as experts.

It's not an exact science.

No, it's not... Often there are unfair expectations placed on the team and at the end of the day, if Cavan ever win an Ulster Championship or an All Ireland championship, it'll not be down to the manager of the day, it's the players who win matches.

I often tell a story to players. People will tell you that every coach wants their players to know what they've to do and if the players know it, they've a great chance of winning. But the way I explain it is this. Every male player has a mother and every male that has a mother often suffered from the following. Mammy was going up the town to shop and she says, "son, you wouldn't wash that kitchen floor for me" so the son dutifully washes the kitchen floor and is excited about mammy coming back to see the floor clean. But mammy comes back and looks at the floor and the first thing she says to the fella is "why didn't you do it right?".

Now that's the classic example of coach and player. Mammy's the coach and son is the player and my argument is, the son knew exactly what he

had to do, wash the floor, and if mammy had just told him, "look, son, you're only doing what you know".

It depends how mammy takes the son now, she could shout at him and destroy him or take him and give him praise him and say that's brilliant, for 90% of the floor you've got it right. Now, I'll show you how to get those corners right. Does that make sense? That's what it's about. So I'm always mindful that the glory I get is nothing to do with winning things, I don't care if the Sam Maguire was set in front of me and someone said, your team won that. I've already had my satisfaction getting there. Every night I go to Cavan will be my satisfaction because every player will know exactly what they have to do to clean the floor. And I'm also mindful that any time a team goes on to the field, they can only do what they know... That's the journey that players have.

So I've no issues with Cavan. Cavan will probably set a goal this year of looking for promotion to Division 2. So we'll have to determine what it will take, and that can be a difficult one, getting players to agree to what it will take, essentially the cost. There's Division 2, there's the cost of getting to it, each player, are you willing to pay a price. Now if all players don't pay a price, you won't get to Division 2.

What in your opinion separates successful and unsuccessful teams?

If you can distil what I've been saying to you, that's what it is. If you do have problem-solving skills, you'll be more motivated to learn more and achieve more.

A lot of people don't achieve their ambitions because they don't really ask themselves do they want them. If you want something, really, you will let no obstacle stand in your way. People that don't want it, you'll hear them saying, "oh that wasn't for me, I didn't like that" and so on...which means you didn't want that in the first place. So that's what I'm saying.

Any player can improve on his skill, team work can be created but the whole notion of self-development such as conditioning skills, life-style management, need to be worked on.

That could be something that has traditionally been lacking in Cavan?

When I go to Cavan, people tell me "Joe Bloggs is a great player".My argument is, that's good, now if you're that great and you're a defender, could you mark Gooch Cooper in Croke Park? That's the player we've to get, players of that level.

We've got to look at the Gooch Coopers and say, right, you're John Morrison playing for Cavan, you want to cope with Gooch Cooper so that you can win an All Ireland, that means you have to match or do better than what he's doing [in preparing].

If you do any less, you won't get there.

Were you impressed with what Val and Tom had to say?

The first thing is that they have a vision and if people have a vision and they're willing to pay the price themselves, they have a good chance. For me, Tom Reilly is very, very committed and has a passion for Cavan and he has a drive in him to get there. Val, obviously second time back, often that can be a bad thing going back to somewhere you've been before, but Val has a passion... It's not a matter of was I impressed, I like to think of it as being on a train and going in the same direction. How far the train goes depends on a lot of other things.

Do you mind the travelling?

I live in Armagh and I'll be travelling up from there. I used to go from Armagh to Mayo and Armagh to Leitrim, so Cavan is the closer of the three. My two jobs, one with schools, going around schools and universities and things like that, and then coaching courses with the GAA, because I am a master tutor with the GAA. Last week I was in Carlow coaching, so Cavan is nothing to me.

Are you confident that it will work out?

Well, I have a wee phrase for myself, and for players, 99.9% or less is always 100% wrong, so you'll only get 100% out of myself. That's all I can give. But I'm excited by it. I don't know what people's impressions are of me but at the end of the day, the players will certainly be made to think about themselves.

It probably is a good time to come in to

Cavan because there are some

very talented

young players there.

Oh, it's an exciting time. My forte is on the pitch and I will be going in asking, is there a Cavan style of play, do the players know it, can they play it, is it being worked on, is there a second and third Cavan style of play we can switch to, do we have a kick-out strategy, do we have sideline ball routines, free-kick routines, tackling routines within the game plans, do we have a language that we can use to communicate on the pitch? So if you

Maybe in the past, I've had a reputation of being different or colourful or whatever but I sum that all into, if you don't understand something, you'll never learn. Players are going in well aware of what they're trying to do and they're expected to have an opinion on it.

Once you understand something, you can only do it in a game if you get it into one of your memory banks. If somebody tells a team how to do something, it never works, they have to live it and visit it, visit it, visit it until it comes into the sub-conscious.

One thing I hear people saying when someone asks what the sessions are like is "different".

What can players expect?

One thing is, I'm very, very confident about what I do, and why I do it and what its for. For example, when we walk into the dressing room, unlike most dressing rooms up and down the country, the session will be on the wall. There will be an emphasis on different things and it will be broken down into different parts, the time spent on each thing... So if you go out on the field and I says "what's the session about Paul?" and you says "I don't know, John", I'll send you back into the dressing room. I don't want you on this pitch if you don't know what you're supposed to be doing.

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