Morgan keeps faith after freak injury ends season
NEW Tyrone football sensation Niall Morgan was battling to stay positive last night after learning that his dream debut season is over because of a knee injury.
"I'm looking at next season now and staying positive. There's nothing else you can do," said the Red Hands' devastated goalkeeper, who broke into their team this year on the back of his free-taking brilliance.
"All I can do is hope for the best, work hard and try to recover as quickly as I can without any more setbacks," said Morgan, who suffered a freak knee injury in a club game last weekend.
"It's a different sort of a challenge for me. It's probably going to be a personal challenge for me to get back to where I was at this time last year."
The news that he must go under the knife today and will miss the rest of the season is as devastating to Tyrone as it is to Morgan personally. The 21-year-old from Edendork had made a massive impact in his debut season after quitting soccer to concentrate on Gaelic football.
He started all of Tyrone's eight Allianz League games this year, despite Mickey Harte's policy in previous years of rotating his goalkeepers.
And he nailed down their No 1 jersey despite the fact that he plays his club football as a midfielder or forward, and started out his soccer career as a winger.
Apart from immediately taking on the mantle of Tyrone's first-choice net-minder, Morgan continued the increasing trend among goalkeepers to kick frees and was one of the team's top scorers in the league when he kicked 18 points from long-range frees en route to the Division 1 final.
His accuracy, particularly from long range, was seen as a new trump card for Harte to play because it meant Tyrone's opponents had to rethink their game plan and could not afford to foul inside a much greater perimeter.
The only previous blip on Morgan's burgeoning career came on his Ulster SFC debut last month, when he scored only one free and indulged in a bit of unnecessary showboating in Ballybofey, where the Donegal fans got on his back as the Red Hands bowed out to Donegal.
Morgan landed awkwardly after fielding a high ball in a club game and knew immediately he had suffered a serious injury.
"I was just going up for a ball in midfield and when I came down the knee went back instead of forward," he explained.
"There was nobody near me, I was unopposed, just unfortunate."
A scan yesterday revealed damage to the lateral collateral ligament of the left knee, and the Tyrone 'keeper is to have an operation at the Ulster Clinic in Belfast today.
Although he is a right-footed kicker, Morgan regards his left leg as his pivot and thus the more important of the two. With a projected recovery time of four months, the unlucky rising star has no chance of featuring for Tyrone again this summer.
That means that Pascal McConnell, the veteran he edged out this season, is set to step in as netminder for their first-round qualifier clash against Offaly.
"You couldn't have anybody better. I'm delighted to have Pascal there, and I'd say he'd start for most other counties in Ireland," said Morgan, who has always maintained that it was only his free-taking abilities that was getting him into Tyrone's starters.
Harte will now have to call up another goalkeeper as cover and could look to try to persuade treble All-Ireland winner John Devine out of his recent inter-county retirement.
Morgan's injury is the latest bit of bad news to hit the Red Hands since thye suffered that 0-10 to 2-10 defeat to Donegal on May 26. It comes just days after the decision of experienced defender PJ Quinn to quit the senior panel because of work commitments.