Kenny Archer: Niall Morgan key to Tyrone's chances at both ends of pitch

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Tyrone's Niall Morgan kicks the ball long.
Tyrone's Niall Morgan in action during the Allianz Football Division one Round Three game against Galway at O'Neills Healy Park Omagh.

Goals are proving scarcer than normal in this year’s Allianz Football League - but at least one goalkeeper is doing his best to change that.

That’s not a dig at a hapless flapper currently suffering from back-ache after repeated dips into his onion bag, but praise for another positive performance from Tyrone’s Niall Morgan, even in defeat to Galway.

On Sunday’s showing it will only be a matter of time before the Edendork man finds the opposition net.

A few days ago on social media there was evidence of a young Morgan doing just that, albeit as an outfield player.

Once you could look past the blond highlights in his hair, the really eye-catching aspect was the brilliant, confident finish, the ball blasted to the net on the run.

For years now Morgan has been doing all that’s expected of a modern goalkeeper: as well as the traditional shot-stopping, he’s been guiding kick-outs to team-mates, and also foraying out the field to provide an ‘extra man’ around midfield.

In that last regard, he has been one of those goalkeepers prepared to contest opposition kick-outs, even if his presence there often meant that the ball was then directed away from where he stood.

A goal from a goalkeeper is obviously next on his ‘to-do list’.

He didn’t get one against Galway, but it wasn’t for the want of trying.

Early in the game he came running forward. And forward. And forward.

So what? Plenty of goalkeepers do that nowadays, you say.

Except Morgan didn’t have the ball. He was running ahead of play, wanting the ball, demanding it. He ended up around the opposition ‘D’, and only retreated because the ball did not come to him.

It’s the kind of positive burst forward that few players make now, never mind goalkeepers.

Getting so far up the pitch wasn’t a one-off, though.

Later in that first half a team-mate did pick out his run and supply him with the ball. Without breaking stride, Morgan unleashed a shot, but unfortunately for Tyrone his effort dipped just over rather than under the bar.

Of course, it’s well-known that Morgan has been playing outfield for his club, and Sunday really was an exhibition of his ability as an all-round footballer.

The ‘quarter-back’ analogy is over-used but Morgan was dropping into pockets of space, receiving possession, and then pinging the ball into team-mates for them to take fairly simple attacking marks.

The fact that he’s still showcasing his talents in the Irish version of the National Football League rather than trying to become a goal-kicker in the USA is a great boon for Tyrone.

As he often does, he showed he can put the ball between the posts. Whenever Darragh Canavan had taken too much buffeting and battering in winning a free, up strode Morgan to confidently convert it in first half injury time.

His notable contributions continued after the break. In perhaps the first instance of a goalkeeper setting up a score for a corner-back in football when both were deep in opposition territory, Morgan supplied Conall Devlin with a cute kick-pass delivered on the run.

The incident which perhaps attracted most attention online was part of traditional goalkeeping art, except with an added Superman element. The catch he made high above his own crossbar looked like an image that had been Photoshopped.

The extraordinary athleticism he exhibited in that moment was shown throughout by his stamina in getting up and down the field. He never seemed to stop for a breather or slow down.

Off to a tee... Niall Morgan picks out a Tyrone jersey from a kick-out. Pic Philip Walsh.
Off to a tee... Niall Morgan picks out a Tyrone jersey from a kick-out. Pic Philip Walsh. Off to a tee... Niall Morgan picks out a Tyrone jersey from a kick-out. Pic Philip Walsh.

It wasn’t the perfect performance – he wasn’t able to keep out the decisive score, the game’s only goal, although that finish was fiercely rifled high to the net by Cathal Sweeney.

However, he did stop the same player repeating that feat on the hour, batting away a rising shot to keep Tyrone in contention.

Overall, there’s a real aura of self-belief, of leadership about Morgan. Given the absence of so many experienced players due to retirements and injuries, those qualities will be priceless for the Red Hands this year.

With the inclusion of a lot of league debutants instead of many better known names it’s vital that senior stars stand up and lead by example and Morgan certainly does that.

It’s usually said about a forward who scores plenty in defeat, but as an individual Niall Morgan definitely didn’t deserve to lose on Sunday.

County bias aside, it would have been fitting had referee Joe McQuillan allowed a few more seconds of play, so that Morgan could have received the ball from young Ciaran Daly and had a shot at an equaliser.

The way he was playing, anything other than the ball soaring over the bar would have been a surprise. Indeed he might well have bent a shot past his opposite number Conor Gleeson for a winning goal.

If Tyrone are to achieve anything this season, starting with survival in the top flight, then Niall Morgan will be absolutely key to their chances.