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Tyrone and Dublin goalkeepers look forward to final say

By Declan Bogue

The self-appointed purists will hate you for saying it, but this Sunday could be the first time in Gaelic games where a major final is decided by the scoring of opposition goalkeepers.

Niall Morgan of Tyrone comes into direct competition against Dublin's Stephen Cluxton; commonly acknowledged as the man who has revolutionised goalkeeping in Gaelic football and sent many inter-county managers off in search of their own prototypes.

How they fare from free kicks could well be the deciding factor in who takes home the National League title, but Morgan is concentrating on the array of attacking talent that has impressed in the sky blue already this league.

The intentions of players such as Jason Whelan and Paul Mannion have not gone unnoticed, as Morgan says, "They seem to want to go for the jugular every time they get the ball and I suppose, why not?

"If a goal chance opens up you might as well take it. It makes it a long way back for the other team. Two quick-fire goals for Dublin left it too far away for Mayo to come back.

"I'll be ready for them coming at me, but I am just looking forward to the game."

Having committed to Tyrone this season after playing for Dungannon Swifts in the Irish League for years, Morgan has been granted an extended run as the Red Hands goalkeeper.

Even the reliable Pascal McConnell has had to make do with merely two appearances in the McKenna Cup as Morgan has started all eight league games to date, hitting thirteen points – twelve from frees and one '45'.

His expertise is a boon to Tyrone, but he will be the first to admit that his record is not immaculate, with a few misses as minor blemishes.

"My free-kicks," he explains, "are not always as straightforward as others.

"I have been lucky enough to nail a few but I have missed my fair share as well and it's something I want to pick up and practise a lot more on to cut the ration of misses to scores." He continues, "Before training I would hit a right few kicks for about fifteen to twenty minutes before the training begins.

"Then if I get a chance I will go and practise a few before the games.

"I try to focus on the technique and on striking the ball rather than scoring. I think if you are getting the right technique and the right strike on it, the scores will come for you."

Morgan may be around six foot tall, but in the world of inter-county goalkeepers, he has a waif-like frame.

Hitting the ball over the bar from rather huge distances however is not so much to do with heft and more about timing, as he articulates.

"I think it's sort of like golf. If you get a good swing speed in golf you are going to hit the ball far. I think it's the same in football."

As one of the new breed, Morgan epitomises the new Tyrone that Mickey Harte has successfully blended into the team this year.

Making himself at home wasn't difficult, according to the Edendork man; "The helpful thing is that there was ten of us new boys coming in at the one time, so they had no option than to embrace us and take us under their wings.

"It's lucky enough I had JD (John Devine) and Packie (McConnell) to look after me.

"Everybody has come together now and I can't speak highly enough about everybody in this team.

"There is nobody that you couldn't get on with; they are all 100% fellas and it's great to be part of it."

The optimism he exudes is one of a happy camp, winning games and being in the shake-up for major honours. But just as he considers their chances of lifting national silverware this weekend, the conversation swings back round to May 26th, the date Tyrone go into Ballybofey to meet All-Ireland champions Donegal in the first round of Ulster.

"A lot of people don't see the league as important but every game is important here and every competitive fixture, you want to win," Morgan begins. The way we are focussing is just one game at a time.

"We know that what we have been doing so far is not enough to beat Donegal.

"They are going to be flying fit to beat us, especially after the seven-day break they took to refocus their minds on May 26th.

"We are taking each game as it comes and we have two more competitive games than they have got." He concludes, "Hopefully, it will stand by us and we are able to go at them as much as they are going to go at us."

One eye on Sunday. One eye on Ballybofey.

Belfast Telegraph

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