Morgan takes 'free' lesson from Cluxton
Published 24/04/2013 | 05:00
NEW Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan knows who he has to thank for his burgeoning inter-county career – and it's not manager Mickey Harte.
The former midfielder with soccer side Dungannon Swifts puts his call-up to the Red Hand panel down to Dublin star Stephen Cluxton and the way in which he has revolutionised Gaelic football goalkeeping by also doubling up as his team's free-taker.
Morgan was parachuted straight into the Tyrone No 1 shirt this year and believes his ability to convert long-range frees in the same vein as Cluxton has helped him nail down the spot.
"If Stephen hadn't been hitting frees for Dublin, I don't think I would be playing Gaelic football at county level," said the Edendork clubman, who left a career in the Irish League behind to line out with Tyrone.
"I'd still be preparing for the last game of the league for Dungannon Swifts at the minute.
"I would see myself more as an outfielder at club level. And it was probably my free-taking ability that got me promoted to the county scene.
"I suppose it's 50-50 – I have him to blame that I'm stuck in goals for the rest of my career, but I have him to thank that I got to play at inter-county level.
"I think in the back of my head there's still a wee tiny dream, that I'll some day get to wear a white jersey instead of a red one.
"But I am starting to let go of it. The chance is getting smaller and smaller every day."
Morgan played in three of Tyrone's five Dr McKenna Cup games and has been given the nod for all of the county's league games to date, but the 21-year-old took a roundabout route to senior inter-county football.
He represented Tyrone at underage level but was set for a career in the Irish League with Dungannon before the Red Hands came calling. Even his time with the Swifts didn't go exactly to plan, as he started out as a midfielder before being switched to goal.
"I went to (Dungannon Swifts) and it was enjoyable, it filled a Saturday morning for me. From then I just kept going and never moved away from Dungannon, then they gave me the chance to play first team football in the Irish League," he said.
"I started off as a right winger, and when they found out I played Gaelic in goal, that's where I went."
Sunday's double-header should attract around 30,000 to Croke Park, the biggest crowd Morgan will have ever played in front of, but he insists there is more expectation in soccer.
"With soccer, when you're getting paid, there's a bit more pressure. People are paying you for your performance, and if you weren't performing, they were wondering why, every time they went to pay you the money," he said,
"I've left it. They've left it so that if I want to come back, I can come back. But Tyrone is my future."
Another former soccer player – one time Ipswich Town 'keeper Shane Supple – was in goal for Dublin when the sides met in the league earlier this year, but Morgan will go head-to-head with Cluxton on Sunday.
While the Dubs are clear favourites, Tyrone are the only side to beat them in the league this year. However, that was a Dublin side without the likes of Michael Darragh Macauley and Bernard Brogan, and Ciaran Kilkenny was forced from the field early on.
"They were missing quite a few players. Look at the amount of free-kicks they missed out around the '45'. And, with Cluxton back, they probably won't miss any," said Morgan.
"We counted ourselves a bit lucky that night. I don't think we can judge anything off it, we're looking at an almost completely new Dublin team."
Clarke took an extended break from football in the wake of Crossmaglen's exit from the club championship at the All-Ireland semi-final stage in February. He is now expected to take his place in the Armagh team that takes on Cavan in the opening round of the Ulster SFC on Sunday, May 19.