More than seven months after captaining Cardiff City back to the Premier League, Sean Morrison is on a high.
After 17 games, the Bluebirds sit outside of the relegation zone and the captain is delighted with the progress the club has made under manager Neil Warnock.
We caught up with Morrison ahead of the visit of Manchester United and former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this weekend to talk all things Warnock, Cardiff City and those iconic goals at Hull.
What were your first impressions of Cardiff when you first signed? How was the club sold to you?
I started the season with Reading, had a good pre-season and wasn’t expecting to move anywhere. I then played away at Wigan on the first day of the season with Reading and it was in the aftermath of that game that I got a call saying Cardiff were interested. Over my career, I’d seen this happen before and not seen a bid materialise, but then come that Thursday, I was driving down to Cardiff for a medical and to sign for the club.
Me and Pilks signed at the same the same time and I knew him previously, so it wasn’t like the first day of school. There was a bit of a strange atmosphere when I joined because the club had 40, 50 pros on the books, but there was a good group of lads there and I was ready to dive in to try something new.
Everything seemed to change when Neil Warnock took charge and there has been an upward trajectory ever since. Can you describe the effect he had when he arrived? What did he say to you all to get you onside?
Before the Gaffer [Neil Warnock], we had Russell Slade and he was the starting point. He got rid of a lot of the deadwood, really stabilised the club that meant the Gaffer had a better starting point. We weren’t in a good place when he took over. Near the bottom of the table and couldn’t see where the next win was coming from, but the effect that the Gaffer had was huge. It became a much happier place to come to work and the boys bought into it. I think the fans could see that and could feel the change in the club.
At that time, could you ever envisage that the next season would end with promotion?
When he first came in, the initial aim was to avoid relegation. Our squad was too good, the manager was too good and that showed, as we ended up finishing in the top half of the league. To finish the season the way we did, we then started to think that with a good bit of business in the summer, get a couple players in, we’d have a real opportunity of getting into the top six.
Everyone at the club was aiming to get in to the top six and that was going to be the marker for a successful season. Fortunately enough, the manager and characters we had saw us promoted.
What is Warnock like as a manager? He’s obviously mellowed with age but what’s a Warnock dressing room like?
He just respects every single one of his players. He speaks to them how he’d want to be spoken. He’s just got a real love of football, loves the game and loves being surrounded by football people. He treats everyone with respect and from the day he walked in, it’s been a brilliant atmosphere. I speak on behalf of the boys when I say we just love coming in to work.
As his captain, what is Warnock like with you?
Me and the Gaffer are just open and honest with each other. Over the years, we’ve had our bits and bobs over things I agree with and he doesn’t. Neither of us sit on the fence, but ultimately, we both want Cardiff to succeed and I think that’s the main thing. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s been incredible with me and we’ve just got on like a house on fire.
Ahead of Cardiff’s promotion season, you were linked with a move to Sheffield Wednesday. What happened, what did Warnock say to you about it and was a move ever on the cards?
It was never going to happen. The press, the media, they build it up, but it wasn’t going to happen. There was a bid on the table from Sheffield Wednesday and I got a call from the gaffer. He told me the situation, the fact there was a bid, and he told me didn’t want me to go and I knew I didn’t want to leave either. I felt like I could be a part of success here and my gut was saying to stay. So I trusted my gut and it was wrapped up in about 25 seconds.
From then, the conversation was about me wanting to stay in Cardiff and I had a year or two left on my deal. I wanted to extend it and I was very happy to stay. I trusted the manager and he trusted me and that’s a fantastic thing to have. It’s hard to come by in football and if you don’t think your manager has got your back, or vice versa, then it’s hard to stay.
From the outside, Cardiff’s promotion was against all odds, but obviously Warnock had instilled a sense of self-belief into you that carried you through the season. How did he do it and what did he say to you?
There were so many points over the course of the season, so many different things that happened. There were games where we scored late goals, or big tackles and big blocks, the must-win games that we won. The gaffer just took so much pressure off of us and lumped it on himself via the media. We were never tipped to go up and it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that it really hit us. We were just going about our business, trying to get to our points goal.
What was the game against Reading actually like on the last day? Were you kept informed of what was going on with Fulham?
I felt for the fans as it obviously wasn’t the most entertaining game. I think Birmingham winning did effect our game. We were made aware at half-time and we knew what was going on. If we had needed to go out after half time and win the game, I think we would have won the game. At half time, we just knew we had to keep things as they were and we would have done our job. We had a job to do and we executed our plan.
Then the final whistle was just the best feeling in football. The Championship is a marathon. You go on the road a lot and you’re away from home a lot. It’s a really tough league, both mentally and physically. You’ve got a squad of players going through a brutal season and we had one final 90 minutes.
What’s it like when you have thousands of fans streaming on to the pitch?
Once I’d picked myself up off the floor, from the bundle, it was just incredible being around the fans and the boys. I was a little bit caught by surprise. I knew the fans were on the pitch but Pelts, Mendez, and me were all quite near each other and we were just grabbing each other and hugging and then we were hit by a wall of people. I think I got picked up by someone and then they were just screaming in my face. It was a surreal moment, but incredible at the same time. Everyone was just so ecstatic.
Your goals at Hull were one of the iconic moments, especially the second one. What were you doing that far up the pitch at that stage of the game?!
It was purely instinct. I remember Pelts blocked the ball and it bounced over to Mendez and he was just gone. We were on the edge of our box and I saw Bryson take off and then I just thought ‘I’m off here, I’m going to go and see what happens.’
As Nathaniel was sprinting, I was digging in just to keep up and when he chopped back, Bryson went front post and the cross found me at the back. I just cut inside and put it away. I ran over to our fans and celebrated. I think we had 3,000 fans there that day that took over the corner. It’s a moment that still gives me goosebumps.
What are your personal highlights of last season?
There were just so many moments. From that first day when Ken scored against Burton in the last minute. Sol got a last minute goal against Sheffield Wednesday, Gunnar scored a huge winner late on against Forest. There were just so many moments when we needed to win and we needed to keep digging in to get points away from home.
We went to places like Middlesbrough and Sunderland and came away with three points. We just kept going to these places and getting the job done. Collectively, it was close to a perfect season for us.
How have you found the step up to the Premier League? It feels like everyone is starting to find their feet after an initial culture shock. How does it differ to the Championship?
The fighting for each other will never go away. That’s a given for this squad. Every point we can fight for, we’ll fight for it. I think our performances have shown that. There hasn’t been many games where we haven’t been in the game and our home form has been fantastic.
There’s a big game coming up against Man United on Saturday. Do you do anything differently to prepare for a club like United?
You just have to prepare for every game in a similar sort of way. Of course, things change as we look to deal with different personnel and teams. We prep the same, but we practice different tactics to try to deal with certain players.
Looking at United, they’ve got world class players in their squad, World Cup winners, and they’ve just changed their manager, but we know we just have to focus on ourselves. The ground will be a fortress and they know it’s not going to be an easy game.
You touched on the fans there. Just how good has the Cardiff City Stadium crowd been?
They are just the 12th man. It really does make a difference on the pitch. The three games where we went 1-0 down, the fans really made the different. It’s the motivation you need and helps you dig in. The club has really come together in the past two years and the support on and off the pitch has been important in that.
Finally, how have you found the Premier League personally?
From my perspective, I don’t think there has been many games where I’ve felt out of my depth. I’ve felt comfortable, but there’s always room for improvement. We’re only human. There’s going to be times where things don’t happen and I’m always looking to improve as a player on and off the pitch.
I work hard in the week and I hope that shows on the pitch. For me, it’s a real honour to captain Cardiff City and it would be my greatest achievement to keep Cardiff in the Premier League for another season.