OTT continues our chat with former Crusaders star Chris Morrow on his ability between the sticks, becoming one of the top players in the country, and his plans to continue his playing career.
One (two, in fact) of my favourite memories of Chris would come in the 2010/11 season. In late October, eight years and one day since his debut, Chris would be forced to don the gloves after Niall Murphy was red-carded in a 2-0 home win against Coleraine. The short cameo between the sticks and the clean sheet would simply whet the appetite for what would happen later in the season. On the 5th February, the Crues were in second place in the table and faced with a tough trip to relegation-haunted Newry. The Bordermen would go 1-0 up early on, and late in the first half Crues keeper Chris Keenan would pick up a knock which saw Morrow once again pull on the gloves. With the pressure on as we kept up the chase at the top, Chris was fantastic between the sticks, having no chance with a deflected Newry effort that would prove worthless as the Crues battled to a crucial 3-2 victory.
“On 3 occasions I donned the goalkeeper’s jersey, and I think it really just came from training nights where before training I would throw myself in nets and enjoy diving about like an eejit. Stephen McBride would also do the same at training but I was always happy to step forward in the games that I was required. I had done nets for a while during my time at Holywood Boys u14 as the goalkeeper we had signed Lee Windrum moved on to Hearts.”
Despite his attempts at becoming a number one, Chris was by now one of the best central midfielders in the country. He was at last named in the NIFWA Team of the Season in 2011, and followed that up by repeating the feat in 2012. That 2011/12 season was arguably his finest to date, passing the 300 appearance mark, while also putting on a masterclass in what is now known as the Chris Morrow League Cup Final. Opponents Coleraine were flying at that time, on the back of a 13 match unbeaten run and sitting fourth in the table, five points and two places above Crusaders. The Crues took hold of the game however, Morrow and Aidy Watson dominating the middle of the park with Morrow firing home the winner in the 34th minute.
“I have heard that the final has since been labelled as that, and I am humbled at that but I was just lucky enough to be the player who scored the winning goal. The performance of the entire squad that day helped us bring the Cup home.”
The Setanta Cup was added to that later in the season, as the Crues became All Ireland Champions for the first time in their history, Chris completing the 120 minutes and converting his penalty to spark wild scenes at the Oval, and all along the Shore Road afterwards. Just a few days before, Chris had received the ultimate personal accolade as he was voted the NIFWA Footballer of the Year, to become one of the few players to have won both the Player and the Young Player awards in their careers.
“The period between 2009 and 2012 was probably the most enjoyable time for me as we had major success along with the top players around the club. If I was to pick a favourite season/team from my time at the Crues I would choose the League Cup/Setanta Cup-winning team.
“I also believe 2012 was my best season personally, but my performances really only stood out from January-March and maybe it came as a coincidence that it’s the only previous time in my career that I joined the gym and worked that little bit harder away from the football.”
Unfortunately, Chris’s surge towards the 400 appearance mark for Crusaders was disrupted by injury, and ended with 396 appearances and 64 goals upon his release in 2016, just over a year after a much-deserved testimonial season culminated with a showpiece game at Seaview against Derry City.
“The club offered me a testimonial in the 2nd year of a new contract I had signed at the time. I was overwhelmed and still am hugely thankful to the club for offering the opportunity and acknowledging the 10 years’ service. I suffered quite a few injuries during my time at the club and always tell people any injury I have ever sustained in life was caused giving my all playing for Crusaders.
“Many people think I have a full set of medals but unfortunately, I missed out on the Shield final due to suspension and missed out on a league medal as I did not participate in enough games.”
Throughout his time at Seaview, Chris was associated with many of the finest players and coaches in the league, but he cites influences much closer to home who aided his development over his formative years.
“The biggest influences early on would have to be my late Grandad and my Mum. Mum has supported me from the age of 9/10 and has followed me to nearly every game since. And my grandfather, who was an old fashioned centre half himself, gave me the most influential piece of advice that I’ve been told in my footballing life to date. He said the best way to make the game simple is by picking a simple pass.
“He always kept a close eye on my game and told me areas I could improve to help me progress as a player. There have since been many different people who influenced my career, from the supporters to those who believed in me within the staff & squad.
“I have also been fortunate to play with so many well-known names who have had superb Irish league careers, but playing alongside Stuart Dallas and Gavin Whyte who have progressed and shown what the Irish league can offer I would have to say those two guys are the best that I played alongside.”
After a loan spell at Glentoran, Chris signed for Carrick Rangers where he spent two seasons before moving to East Belfast to H&W Welders, where he would play alongside his former Crusaders teammate David Rainey. His spell with the Welders came to an end at the end of the season, though, and Chris is now on the lookout for a new club.
“When I left the Crues, I’ll be honest and say I went through the motions both mental and physically. The injury played on my mind and took me a good few years to get over. Also knowing I was no longer a Crusaders player also played on my mind for a good few years.
“My time at Glentoran was hard as I was carrying the injury still, while Glentoran’s issues both on and off the pitch where highlighted regularly. The two years I spent with Carrick really reminded me of my early seasons with Crusaders; a family club with good people who want to lead the club in the right direction off the pitch.
“The Welders was my first step into the First Division since 2005. I knew from the first night I had made the right decision and being there helped me clear my mind a lot. Although it was an up and down season I enjoyed every minute and I was looking forward to a few seasons more but unfortunately, that wasn’t to be and after one season I was released.”
It’s fair to say being released by the new management at the Welders was a setback to Morrow, but following a brief period of reflection, Morrow quickly discovered he still has the hunger required to continue his playing career.
“Since being released from the Welders in my mind I believed it was my time to call it a day. I was happy and content with the career I had, but since the beginning of June I have had a change of mindset and I now feel like I am far from retired. I have the mindset back of working that extra bit harder and now I am most definitely looking to find a new club to continue my playing career.”
One of the best playmakers seen in the league over the last 10 years, Chris Morrow would be a real coup for many clubs. Fighting fit and with the bit between his teeth; ‘Beaver’ firing on all cylinders again this season is something we can all look forward to.