Sport

Changes to GAA calendar will only add to pressure on players says Niall Morgan

Niall Morgan doesn't believe the GAA's tweaking with the calendar will solve problems for players Picture Seamus Loughran
Cahair O'Kane in Melbourne

THE GAA’s changes to the calendar and the structure of the All-Ireland SFC will put more pressure on players rather than relieve it, believes Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan.

Following Congress’s decision to introduce a Super Eight quarter-final system at the beginning of the year, the number of games that an Ulster team may have to play to win an All-Ireland will go up to 10.

It will also be played over a much tighter timeframe as the GAA attempts to move towards a more condensed calendar.

One of the key moves has been to clear April of inter-county matches, with the month set to be given almost exclusively over to club games.

But the issues the move were intended to solve regarding the shortened end-of-season window for club championships in many counties are not applicable to all.

Tyrone is one county in which the prioritisation of club league football has been an important concession on the county board’s behalf, with inter-county players available for at least two-thirds of their league games in any given season.

“I would like to see a full-on calendar of how it would be approached,” said the Edendork man, who will play his club football next year under former Derry boss Damian Barton.

“I think it was yourself did a piece last year on how they could condense it and give the clubs the same time as the county.

“You wonder how people can’t see the sense in that, why they wouldn’t look at it and say ‘we’ll trial that’.

“But it just constantly seems to be ‘how can we make more money?’ and ‘how can we build the revenue stream?’ It’s become more of a business than a sport.

“To me, it’s not the people making the decisions that should be. The players are always asked but their comments don’t really seem to be taken into consideration because no matter what happens, the players are always complaining about it.

“It just seems that the men in Croke Park make the decisions whether you like it or not.

“You pay attention [to changes], you have to if you’re looking to plan ahead and looking at club football. I know down south most people are happy with the Super Eight but it eats into our club football in Tyrone.

“We only miss five games a year, whereas in the likes of Kerry or Cork they mightn’t play any league games at all. It’s going to be a big hit for us playing our club football in Tyrone, but we’ll deal with it and get on with it.

“It’s very hard. I find it hard going back to play league games with the club, you haven’t trained with them in maybe three or four weeks and next thing you’re playing a game.

“Maybe their system has changed, they’re doing things in training and you’re coming in doing your own thing, and it looks a bit arrogant of the county player walking in and expecting everybody to play the way they want to play.

“It’s not fair on the clubs. They always want you to be playing and they deserve to have you playing. They’re the ones that brought you through the youth ranks.”

Either Tyrone or Monaghan, who have both consistently been among the top eight teams in the country in recent seasons, will be heading down the qualifier route from day one.

Their pairing at the Ulster quarter-final stage next summer creates a treacherous path to the first round-robin quarter-finals for the losers, but Morgan feels that the mentality of so many counties in the northern province makes it a minefield at the best of times.

“It’s partly because so many of the Ulster teams see themselves as being part of the top eight. There’ll be teams in other provinces looking at it the same way, if they’re beat in the first round they have 10 games to an All-Ireland, but a lot of them probably don’t have the ambition or see themselves going to that stage.

“It’ll be tough but you want to be playing football every week and that’s maybe the best way to go down it. You look at Mayo the last couple of years, they’ve gone a lot better through the back door.

“Tyrone won it twice through the back door. It’s great to win provincials but if you end up in the back door, it gives you a chance to get plenty of games and rebuild and get your system you want to play in place.”

Injury permitting, Morgan will start both International Rules tests as he is the only goalkeeper in Joe Kernan’s squad, who will move from Melbourne to Adelaide tomorrow ahead of Sunday’s first leg.

It is his first trip of any significance since he toured with the squad in 2014, when he lost the battle with Paddy O’Rourke for the number one slot.

“The two of us came out not really knowing who’d be playing. It was great to be involved the whole way through the notion I could play.

“I found out the day before the game I wasn’t and it did take away from it a bit, but it was an unbelievable experience, knocking about boys of Conor McManus and Aidan O’Shea’s calibre.

“It’s great to be involved in something like this. It’s a great honour to get the chance to play for Ireland at any stage,” said Morgan, whose parents Martin and Pauline have flown out for the games.

He wed long-term girlfriend Ciara back in April this year but they postponed their honeymoon until after the football season, so will spend Christmas in the Maldives and the new year in Dubai in delayed celebrations.

Victory over Australia would cap off the year on the field, which saw Tyrone retain their Ulster title in convincing fashion but collapse at the feet of the all-conquering Dubs in the All-Ireland semi-final.

That, combined with the gap between Jim Gavin’s side and an equally defensive Monaghan, has led to suggestions that Ulster football will have to open up if its best are to dine at the top table again.

“Our plan had been working all year and there was no reason to change it just because it was Dublin. We felt our plan was the one that was going to take them down at the time.

“But it’s the Mike Tyson quote: ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face’.

“That was what the goal was like, it was as if someone had taken us out after three or four minutes. It was unfortunate that we didn’t bounce back straight away, if we’d got a couple of scores and put them on the back foot it might have been different.

“There was a 10-minute spell at the start of the second half if we’d taken our chances, but that’s the way it’s been going for us in the last couple of years, we haven’t been taking them.

“That’s no fault of the management. We have full faith in Mickey and whatever way he wants to play is the way we’ll play. I’d say it probably will be a bit more attacking because we’ve seen the way we’re playing isn’t going to beat the likes of Dublin, Mayo and Kerry.

“It’ll maybe a bit more forward thinking but we’ll know when we get back in and see what his thinking is on it.”

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