GAA Football

Tyrone didn't work hard enough in defeat by Derry acknowledges GWA Personality winner Niall Morgan

Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan with his wife and children. The Edendork man has been selected as 2021 Football Personality of the Year by the Gaelic Writers' Association, in conjunction with Wilson Hartnell PR. 

TYRONE goalkeeper Niall Morgan admitted that the Red Hands must get sweaty if they’re to hold on to the Sam Maguire Cup after their stunning defeat by neighbours Derry.

The Edendork clubman, who was last night named the Gaelic Writers' Association Football Personality of the Year Award for 2021, in association with Wilson Hartnell PR, accepted Tyrone didn’t put in sufficient effort against the Oak Leafers in their Ulster SFC hammering at Healy Park.

“Against Derry we didn't work hard enough, we were outworked all over the pitch and that's why they got their victory. That's an easy one for us to set straight, by going out and trying our best and working hard. If that's not good enough on the day, so be it.”

Morgan has strong belief that the Red Hands will respond positively to that 11-point loss inflicted by Rory Gallagher’s men in Omagh:

“Yeah, definitely. We've had a great reaction in training. In years gone by after a defeat you see some boys almost, not ducking out of training, but maybe not being as positive going forward.

“But the reaction has been great by the crop that we have and by the management. Everybody is looking forward to our next match, getting back on the pitch and trying to right the wrongs.

“There's no guarantee that it will definitely happen, but everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel. And if there's one thing you can dictate it's how hard you work.”

Back to basics

In order to return to winning ways, Morgan advocates a ‘back to basics’ approach from Tyrone: “We're just going to have to work a bit harder in terms of our training and in terms of our application and what we're doing skills-wise.

“We need to return a wee bit to the basics and get them sorted because our kick-passing and fist-passing and shot-selection has been what's letting us down this year. If you return to looking after that side of things you're going to reap the rewards of it.”

Complacency did not cause the Derry defeat, but Morgan accepts that victories can quickly become expected:

“Definitely. After we won last year we obviously didn't take anybody for granted, but you sort of get that taste of success and you think it's going to happen again. I suppose a bit like before that, whenever we weren't winning you sort of think ‘Are we going to have another year like that?’

“Derry had a game-plan for us, they've been working on the same game-plan the whole way through the year and it worked for them. It wasn't a surprise to us how they played, we knew how they were going to play, we just couldn't counteract it on the day.

“Unfortunately sometimes you have to admit that the better team won and we'll have to work to figure out ways to play against that because there are going to be other teams who will play a similar way against us as well so it's up to us to put our heads together and figure out where we're going wrong and how we're going to fix it.”

Bouncing back

Tyrone, of course, have experience of bouncing back from a thrashing, having been beaten by 15 points by Kerry in last year’s Division One semi-finals - before responding to beat the Kingdom in the All-Ireland semi-final 11 weeks later:

“Last year we had frank discussions after the Kerry game about what our aims were for the year. There's no point going out and training if you're just going for the sake of it.

“We got together and worked out where we wanted to go next and we've done the same after the Derry game.

“It might not just work the same way, because we had a bit of a surprise factor coming off that loss against Kerry last year, whereas now we still have the target on our back and everyone wants to take us out because we're reigning champions.

“I know we're out of Ulster now, Derry have that accolade going into their semi-final this weekend. Whoever comes up against us in the All-Ireland series will be looking to do the same.”

Family celebrations

2021 was the fulfilment of a dream for Morgan and Tyrone, the All-Ireland victory enjoyed with different generations of his family:

“Yeah, definitely. Getting the wee man onto the pitch and then getting to see my Dad straight afterwards as well was great. In years gone by I was one of the people storming the pitch after an All-Ireland Final that Tyrone had won and you don't really think of the players and the memories that they're missing out on because of that.

“I was definitely very thankful to get to see everybody that has shared the journey with me throughout.”

The Edendork man admitted he had thought that day would never come, of him helping Tyrone to lift ‘Sam’:

“Yeah, definitely. I suppose you start to wonder. That was my ninth year [in the senior set-up] so you're starting to wonder ‘Are we ever going to get over the line?’ because we were close on a number of occasions. Last year was my fifth or sixth time getting to the All-Ireland semi-finals at least.

“You start thinking, 'Jesus, this is going to be every year, we're only getting to the semi-final or quarter-final and you're going to get beat and then have to come back in the next year and do the same thing all over again'. So it was brilliant to finally reach the top and get over the line.”

Played his part

His own performances earned him an All-Star, becoming the first Tyrone goalkeeper chosen during an All-Ireland winning season. His quality displays pleased him, he admits:

“That makes it a whole lot better whenever you've done your own job as well. That you weren't relying on someone to bail you out. To be fair, Feargal [Logan] and Brian [Dooher] put a lot of trust in me and sort of let me call it as I see it on the pitch. Sometimes that works out in your favour as well.

“We didn't have anything like a set game-plan as such. Obviously Tyrone would be renowned for being a short kick-out team but against Kerry we went long.

“We weren't winning much of the ball but it did make it harder for them to break us down because we knew that if we did lose it we were already set up. And if we could get out over their press we were taking out a lot of their players.

“It worked a couple of times against Mayo and Monaghan as well [in the Alll-Ireland and Ulster Finals], so it worked in the long run.

“I suppose we took a bit of a leaf out of [Monaghan goalkeeper] Rory Beggan's book in so far as if you can catch teams out over the top then you can definitely reap a lot of rewards from it.”

The long kick-out is a tactic being deployed by more and more teams, he has noticed: “Yeah, definitely. I think too that goalkeepers can kick the ball a lot further in comparison to what it was.

“The majority of us are now landing the ball between the '65 and the '45 on the far side of the pitch. It's almost like hurling where you're making it more of a territory game. And like in rugby as well, if you're putting the ball close to the opposition's goals then you're putting the pressure on them.”

Intriguing battle

As for the teams under pressure this weekend, Derry and Monaghan, Morgan anticipates a tight battle in more ways than one in the second Ulster SFC semi-final:

“I am looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to seeing how Derry set up against Monaghan because they're definitely a different team to us.

“I'm looking forward to seeing have Monaghan learned anything from the way Derry played against us as well. It's going to be interesting. 

“It's a wee bit of a tighter pitch too in the Athletic Grounds. I think it's tighter anyway. It mightn't be in the measurements but it always feels tighter because it's more closed in.

“So it'll be an interesting match and the atmosphere will be great as well. You know what, as much as you don't like losing, it's great to be part of a competitive championship and it only makes us better being a part of it rather than getting a handy route through.”

Red Hands rewarded

Despite his honesty about Tyrone’s failings against Derry, Morgan is adamant the Red Hands received their just rewards for their efforts last year.

He insists that his county’s All-Ireland SFC triumph last year was no ‘fluke’, and that he and his O’Neill County colleagues are determined to prove their worth again this season as they await the new-look qualifiers draw.

“I know the narrative among some journalists last year was that we won by fluke. We don't believe that.

“Personally I don't believe in luck at all, I believe you get what you deserve and you get what you work for.

“Derry worked hard and deserved their win and there was no luck involved and we would say the same about last year. That we worked hard and we got the rewards for what we did.”

Morgan was pleased to receive the individual award from the Gaelic Writers’ Association, which also awards recipients in hurling, camogie, and ladies football, in conjunction with sponsors Wilson Hartnell PR, saying: “It's nice to get any bit of recognition.”

However, he added that he and his Tyrone colleagues still want to show what they are truly capable of this year, commenting: “You still want to prove yourself. Because if you do go and get beat in the next game it almost proves some people right in that we were ‘lucky’, as they saw it last year.

“That narrative could then start to run away with itself. Whereas if we can get back on track that to me would take a bit of pressure off, knowing that we can perform and we can continue down the right path.

“I'm not saying we're going to do back-to-backs, but we have to show improvement and we have to show we're going in the right direction. The only way to show that is by winning games.”

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