"It's amazing to know that we have a Celtic Cross in our pockets now," says number one Niall Morgan
TYRONE'S number one is Ireland’s number one, there’s is little doubt about that, and as the dust settles on Saturday’s All-Ireland final, the impact Niall Morgan had on the game remains increasingly impressive.
The Edendork goalkeeper was a man of the match contender and must surely be a shoo-in Allstar this year. He scored three points (two frees and a 45), made a crucial save from Brian Walsh in the first half, his kick-outs and general distribution were of a very high standard and he provided the assist of the season for Darren McCurry’s goal chance which was well saved by his opposite number Rob Hennelly... All-in-all, an excellent evening's work.
“There are goal chances in every game and we took two of ours but, unfortunately for Mayo, they didn’t take theirs,” said a delighted Morgan.
“That’s the way things go. There have been games in the past when the same happened to us. Against Kerry in 2015 we had two goal chances and we didn’t take either of them and they won the match. So that’s the way it goes.”
Niall Sludden and Ronan McNamee also denied Mayo with brilliant blocks but the westerners, as is their wont, didn’t help themselves and Ryan O’Donoghue’s penalty miss is another one for the county’s what-might-have-been highlights reel. It was the second time that a Tyrone opponent had hit the post in their thrilling Championship run after Michael Murphy struck the left upright in the Ulster semi-final.
“He (O’Donoghue) took a stutter-step in his run-up and I think he threw himself off more than he threw me off,” said Morgan.
“I’ve got a good record on penalties for Tyrone, it’s something I’m proud of and the boys know that. They back me, they have the belief and it helps. But I’m in the easy position – if the ball goes into the net nobody’s going to say: ‘That was a disgrace, you should have saved that…’
“I went the right way (to his left) but I planned to go the other road until he stuttered. He gave me a bit more time to change my mind. I gave him a step to my left and I think he changed his mind then, he thought I was going left and then he went for the other side so we both maybe out-foxed ourselves on it.”
Morgan didn’t score in the 2018 final and had missed a free against Monaghan when Tyrone scraped past the Farneymen in the Ulster final. He got Tyrone off the mark on Saturday with a confident strike from beyond the 45-metre line.
“I missed a few in the last game (against Kerry) too,” he said.
“I won’t name the Mayo player, but he was reminding me before the first one that I don’t like the easy ones - so it was sweet to score three out of three in an All-Ireland final.”
Before the final, many observers felt that Mayo’s Matthew Ruane would hold sway in midfield but Tyrone pair Brian Kennedy and Conn Kilpatrick dominated Morgan’s kick-outs with a vintage display of ball-winning that improved as the game wore on.
“We kicked long against Kerry and we knew going into the game what we were going to do,” said Morgan.
“We knew we were going long and we were going for the battle and the fight for break ball. Kerry came out on top but that’s fine; that happens.
“It’s not that we were kicking long and they were clean catching all day – we just lost the battle on the ground. I hit every kick-out where I wanted to hit it against Kerry and whenever the ball goes out there it’s up to the other boys to battle for it.
“Feargal and Brian have the belief in me and they told me to play it as I saw it and Conn and Brian came up trumps and we got in around the breaks. That gave us the platform to get over the line.”
Tyrone did more than get over the line of course, they won pulling up at the finish and skipper Padraig Hampsey followed in the footsteps of Peter Canavan (2003) and Brian Dooher (2005 and 2008) when he accepted the Sam Maguire on behalf of the county.
“I always have the belief that we’re the best but this is the first time we’ve won the All-Ireland,” said Morgan.
“I said from I joined the panel that if I didn’t believe we could win an All-Ireland I wouldn’t be here. Now we’ve got our just rewards.
“Mickey Harte set the foundations. He took Tyrone from being an alsoran and took us to the top table and Brian and Feargal have come in and refreshed things, took the shackles off a wee bit and got us over the line. It’s great for the county – it’s not about Mickey or Feargal and Brian, it’s about Tyrone so we’re just delighted.”
He was distracted “chasing after my cub on the pitch” during Hampsey’s acceptance speech and admits he didn’t get to take it all in. But he was delighted to have his wife, daughters, parents and sisters there to celebrate with him at Croke Park.
“It’s amazing to know that we have a Celtic Cross in our pockets now and nobody can ever take that away from us… It’s brilliant.
“You’re representing your family, your club, your county and to be a role model for my children is just amazing.
“I was here cheering on Tyrone in ’03, ’05 and ’08 and it lit the flame in me – hopefully we have lit a flame in a few young ones around the county.”
Again that drubbing in Killarney, when Kerry hammered six goals past him in the Division One semi-final comes up. For Tyrone, it was the turning point of the season and, since that day, the Red Hands never looked back.
“From going to a decent League campaign against Ulster teams that we have always struggled against to getting a hammering in Killarney and having a few home-truths told to us, then winning Ulster and then today just tops it off,” he said.
“Losing to Kerry probably was needed. We went back to the drawing board, we were honest with each other and we worked on our deficiencies. In another year that mightn’t have been enough but this year it was and that’s all that matters. It has been amazing.”