Double delight for Niall Morgan as Ulster win falls on birthday
BIRTHDAY celebrations brought double joy for Niall Morgan as he savoured Ulster Championship glory on the day he turned 25.
The Tyrone goalkeeper kept a clean sheet and chipped in with two points from long-range frees, scores which accounted for the winning margin that gave his side a first provincial title since 2010. It was the perfect day and a memorable way to mark a quarter-of-a-century on this earth.
“It’s the best birthday present I could have got, apart from my fiancée Ciara,” said Morgan.
The Edendork man wasn’t the only player to go out on the town on Sunday night. Contrary to the unsubstantiated claims of one particular GAA pundit, inter-county Gaelic footballers do have a life outside of their chosen amateur sport.
And social outings are not confined to the rare occasions when silverware is won: “All the talk is that GAA players don’t go out. We celebrate every game that we win. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the middle of December or the middle of July,” said the Red Hand net-minder.
“Winning at county level is a massive achievement and we’ll celebrate it. Don’t worry about that. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to get a win and hopefully we can move forward and take it on from here.”
Tyrone eventually wore Donegal down to win a gritty battle of wills and wits, applying a spectacular finish to a contest played out by two teams who appeared to be gripped by a fear of losing: “All we did was chip away at it, point-by-point, we didn’t get a lucky goal, we didn’t get any lucky scores. Every time we got back level, Donegal were able to get another score and then we hit them back again.”
Having lost to Donegal in three of the last four seasons, Tyrone desperately needed to lay the bogey to rest. It was as much with a sense of relief as elation that they ended a sequence of defeats to their north-west neighbours and fierce rivals
“Donegal are such a hard team to break down in general. We were struggling to break them down and, thankfully, now we have finally got through that barrier. But that’s only for now. The next time we play Donegal, they could beat us, so every game is different and every game has to be planned for differently.”
A first provincial crown in six years represented a milestone for a young squad, most of whom had never won an Ulster SFC medal. But Morgan insisted the players are well versed in the business of winning, having come through the ranks as members of successful underage teams.
“You can say we needed it, but if you look at our team, every single player, bar two or three of us, have got Ulster medals in some way, shape or form. The U21s came in last year and rejuvenated us. They had won Ulster and won an All-Ireland, those boys know what it’s like and they’re used to winning and it was just unfortunate in the last couple of years that it was a bit of a barren spell for us. But now we’re getting back in the winning ways and hopefully we can move forward from here.”
However, it was clear Tyrone supporters understood the county’s need to reclaim provincial supremacy. An emotion-charged pitch invasion greeted the final whistle, signalling the return of the good times for the Red Hands.
“In the early 2000s, nobody cared about Ulster titles in Tyrone and now they do," said Morgan.
“It’s great to see so many people on the pitch, so many people on the pitch and everybody celebrating and loving it.”