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Tyrone face an unfair battle

By Declan Bogue

Sunday morning, and the sun rises on Tyrone. Some are glowing in the satisfaction of a handsome eight-point win over Down. Others are nursing hangovers.

Goalkeeper Niall Morgan however, is getting his gear ready to get out of the door for Edendork training at half one.

Club Championship has arrived in Tyrone already. Edendork – who Morgan plays outfield for – are not in action until Sunday, giving him three training sessions with his club before their biggest game of the year against Loughmacrory.

"It's not any way to come down from a county match to go straight into a club training session the next day and then Tuesday too," Morgan rues.

Mind you, he knows he is one of the lucky ones.

He points out that he has been standing in goals for the last two weeks whereas Mattie Donnelly has been in the thick of it at centre-back, taking some serious hits in heavy traffic. Donnelly is out on Thursday night with his club Trillick against Killeeshil.

Morgan explains: "It's a thing the Competitions Control Committee in Tyrone have come up with and they're going to stick by their guns but I'm not overly happy with it and I don't think the majority of the players are either.

"They say they're doing it for the players but I'm yet to be asked whether I wanted it and I don't think any other players were asked either."

His county manager isn't exactly pleased with the scenario himself. Mickey Harte addressed it and revealed that he has nothing to do with the scheduling of such fixtures, which may come as a surprise to some.

"For those who suggest that managers have too much power, I wasn't even asked for my opinion whether I liked that or not," Harte said.

"It's much aired that managers are all-powerful and that they are dictators. That's not the position in Tyrone."

When asked if he would like to see a similar framework to Donegal – who have delayed their club Championship until the involvement of the county senior team comes to an end – Harte said: "I wouldn't want to be bossing anybody. But at the same time I would like to be as fair as I possibly could.

"County players want fair play as well. It's okay to talk about the 98% who play club football; of those 100% who play club and county, a lot of county players are very unhappy."

And then, remembering the kind of reaction his post-match comments received when he questioned the refereeing display of David Coldrick in the drawn game six days before, he added with a grin: "I'm just making my point – and I hope it doesn't sound too negative."

Back to Morgan. It might surprise you, given how much attention has been devoted to him and his role in the Tyrone team, to learn that this was only his third Championship start.

Last season he had a running battle with the Donegal support in Ballybofey and came off worse for it. Just ahead of the qualifiers he sustained knee ligament damage in a club game against Derrytresk, forcing Pascal McConnell into action again.

An autumn and winter spent on the snazzy new anti-gravity treadmill at Tyrone's Garvaghey training complex aided the 22-year-old student teacher's recovery and he was back in harness for the McKenna Cup.

His second start in the Ulster Championship brought the first high-profile black card of Championship football when his foot trip on Jerome Johnston was punished, with Aidan Carr firing the resultant penalty past Morgan's replacement Michael O'Neill.

"Ballybofey was a real learning curve for me, I reacted to the crowd which I shouldn't have done but I feel that I've matured and learnt from that and moved on," reflected Morgan.

"Last week I thought everything was going well until Jerome Johnston decided to take me on and I decided to take him down..." he chuckles.

On Saturday evening he was exceptional. Despite the odd shout from the main stand to 'get on with it' as he lined up his dead balls, he nailed two '45's and a free from close to 50 yards.

He also managed to stop a first-minute penalty from Aidan Carr.

"I was lucky that he hit one last week. I'd done a bit of research and he seemed to be going to the keeper's right a lot of the time but every picture you see of him he has two legs in the air so he's obviously hitting them with power.

"I took a few steps to my right before he hit it at all, thinking he might go straight down the middle and I was lucky enough that he did."

But luck is only a small part of it when such diligence is practised.

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