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Niall Morgan backs Armagh to reach All-Ireland final and won’t be ‘surprised in any way’ if they win it

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Tyrone and Edendork St Malachy's goalkeeper Niall Morgan pictured at the launch of AIB’s new series, The Drive, which explores the adversity faced by inter-county players in the modern game. Photo: Sportsfile

Tyrone and Edendork St Malachy's goalkeeper Niall Morgan pictured at the launch of AIB’s new series, The Drive, which explores the adversity faced by inter-county players in the modern game. Photo: Sportsfile

Tyrone and Edendork St Malachy's goalkeeper Niall Morgan pictured at the launch of AIB’s new series, The Drive, which explores the adversity faced by inter-county players in the modern game. Photo: Sportsfile

Niall Morgan laughs that he’s saying it through “gritted teeth” but Armagh, he senses, are on course for an All-Ireland final and he won’t be “surprised in any way” if they win it.

Tyrone’s All-Star goalkeeper made the bold prediction about the team that stripped them of their All-Ireland title just over two weeks ago after a quarter-final draw that places them on the opposite side to Dublin, Kerry and Mayo. Armagh play Galway in Sunday’s first quarter-final in Croke Park where their style of play will be well suited.

In contrast, Morgan suggests that unless Derry, who play Clare in Saturday’s first quarter-final, open up, Croke Park will be a difficult place to expose their defensive game-plan to for more than 70 minutes.

“I can speak from experience. Playing a similar style of football, we tried that for a number of years,” said Morgan. “It could certainly get you through Ulster but I would have concerns of playing the exact same way at Croke Park. It’s a bigger pitch, it saps your energy, it’s harder to get up and down so much.

“Speaking to people close to the Derry camp, the plan was to go a wee bit more attacking against Donegal in the Ulster final but because Donegal bunched up in defence they’d no other option but to mirror it,” Morgan said.

“I definitely don’t think they are going to come out and play conservative this weekend – I’d be shocked if they did. And I’d be more shocked if they did and won with it. Because I don’t think you could do it in Croke Park and get away with it.

“I’m still waiting on big things from Galway (Armagh’s opponents). They have some frightening players. I think everybody is waiting for Shane Walsh to explode on the big stage so it will be interesting to see if anyone can put shackles on him and stop him. At Croke Park, it’s going to be even harder with the wide open spaces.

“I’m going to put on my Ulster hat though. I think Armagh is going to get to the final and I wouldn’t be surprised in any way, shape or form if they win it as well.”

For their own part Morgan felt their preparations this year didn’t meet the standards they had set for themselves in 2021 and ultimately it was their downfall.

They were, he says, always playing “catch-up”, having started back so late and not had any time after the league to make up ground.

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They never had that “background of fitness” that they had built up to win the All-Ireland.

“We just didn’t have the work done and it showed come the end of the year. We just weren’t fit enough. We were run off the pitch by Derry. We were run off the pitch by Armagh and even to an extent Fermanagh outran us for large periods of that game too. I think just the footballing ability shone through on that day but it caught up with us and we paid the price.

“We always thought that it was just around the corner and we were just one good performance away from getting back to where we were. Getting Armagh, I saw it as probably the worst draw we could have got because they beat us earlier in the year and they knew that they could overturn us again. You were hoping that it would come together on the day but the work wasn’t in the bank and it told on us and we got caught.”

The review, he says, began in the dressing-room in Armagh after the defeat, just their own reflections on where it had gone wrong.

“Hindsight being the wonderful thing it is then you realise it wasn’t at the same level maybe as last year. Last year for example you wouldn’t have left the training pitch until you scored maybe 10 ’45s in a row, whereas this year you were maybe kicking 10 and being happy with seven or eight (scored).

“I’m back playing with the club now, playing outfield, so it is building in me a level of fitness that I obviously didn’t have this year,” he said. “That might give me more of an opportunity to play a wee bit higher out the pitch again like I did last year. My levels of fitness weren’t even there this year, strange saying that as a goalkeeper. Our club season should be right up until mid October this year, (that) gives you six, seven or eight weeks to really think about why you want to be there.”  

The perception that they had somehow ‘fluked’ an All-Ireland in 2021, which has grown legs on the back of two bad championship defeats to Derry and Armagh, is sure to feature in those personal deliberations. Morgan admits it is “more disappointing than hurtful".

“We kept saying we wanted to prove it wasn’t a fluke and we probably gave everybody the opportunity to say, ‘We told you so,’ he said.

“It just doesn’t sit right that people think you won an All-Ireland by fluke, considering if Kerry or Mayo or Dublin had won, it wouldn’t even have been mentioned.”

Niall Morgan was speaking at the launch of AIB’s contest series ‘The Drive’, hosted by comedian Ardal O’Hanlon and also featuring Galway’s Aran Islands’ defender Seán Mulkerrin and Kilmacud Crokes’ Paul Mannion, which delves behind the scenes into the reality of life as an inter-county player and symbolises their own journey as players and the commitment required to succeed in the modern game


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