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Red Hands tactic raises neutral ball boys debate

By Declan Bogue

The GAA have been forced to repeat their stance on neutral ball boys after Tyrone attempted to place somebody behind Niall Morgan's goal during Saturday's qualifier game against Louth.

During the match in Healy Park, a member of the Red Hands backroom team was spotted fetching the ball for Morgan's restarts. He was promptly approached by an Ulster Council volunteer and asked to desist.

Earlier in the Championship, Tyrone courted controversy when Conor Clarke – out for the rest of the season through an unfortunate cruciate ligament injury sustained while playing a club match for Omagh St Enda's – stood behind Morgan's goal during their defeat to Monaghan.

While Morgan faced a Kieran Hughes penalty, Clarke stood behind the goal, creating a distraction.

In the wake of this, the GAA's Central Competition Controls Committee instructed all units overseeing Championship fixtures to provide neutral ball boys.

However, this could be a tricky task to organise and it would appear that it was not the case for the round one qualifier.

A couple of weeks back, Morgan had entirely reasonably raised the issue of Dublin's Cluxton benefiting from rapid service when it was called upon in Croke Park.

"It's obvious that Dublin have appointed ball boys to fire a ball to Cluxton whenever he calls for one," the 23-year-old Edendork man said.

"We were told in Omagh and Newry we aren't allowed anyone to feed the ball back to us. Why's it so different in Croke Park?"

In a game of ever-decreasing inches, the speed that goalkeepers can produce a restart has become a variable they are willing to fight over.

The role has exploded since Cluxton began taking frees. Donegal's Paul Durcan attempted a few in 2012, but now there are a raft of goalkeepers converting frees.

Last weekend, Morgan hit four points from the dead ball. Monaghan's Rory Beggan got five, Meath's Shane O'Rourke grabbed two and Michael Cunningham of Down crowned his Championship debut with a converted '45' and a clean sheet.

Belfast Telegraph

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