Morgan in Cluxton club

Niall Morgan believes he owes his unlikely ascent to the Tyrone first team to opposing Allianz Football League final goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton.

This time last year, Morgan recalls playing low-key club games as a midfielder for Edendork. And not doing a whole pile at the time to warrant inter-county inclusion.

Consistent scoring from placed balls was always his forte, however, and, allied to some time spent in goal, most notably as a soccer player with Dungannon Swifts, a thought was sewn in Mickey Harte’s mind.

It was still a long shot that Morgan might impress to such an extent between the sticks that he would break up the decade long battle between John Devine and Pascal McConnell for the jersey.

But, just months after making his debut, he is one of only six players to have played in every league game ahead of Sunday’s final.

Devine’s retirement last month was a further indication Harte intends sticking with the 21-year old netminder for Championship duty.

The funny thing is, it probably took events in far off Dublin where Cluxton was successfully converted into the team’s number one free-taker in recent seasons for the Morgan experiment to become a reality.

“I would say that if Stephen hadn’t been hitting frees for Dublin, I don’t think I would be playing Gaelic football at county level,” claimed Morgan.

“I’d probably still be preparing for the last game of the Irish League for Dungannon Swifts at the minute.

“I would see myself more as an outfielder at club level. It was probably my free-taking ability that got me promoted towards the county scene.

“At the same time, I suppose I have him (Cluxton) to blame that I’m stuck in goals for the rest of my career!

“But, seriously, I do have him to thank that I got to play at inter-county level.”

Morgan’s solo runs from defence have been a feature of Tyrone’s campaign so far. Interestingly, he admitted he hasn’t given up hope of featuring outfield for Tyrone permanently at some stage in the future.

“I think in the back of my head there’s still a wee tiny dream that, someday, I’ll get to wear a white jersey instead of a red one,” he continued. “But I’m also starting to let go of it. It’s getting smaller and smaller every day.”

Morgan insists he’s not unhappy with his lot. In fact, he marvels at his good fortune in emerging a decade after Devine and McConnell emerged.

“Those two made the jersey their own for a long time,” he said. “Mickey maybe sees this now as the next transition. I can only thank the boys for the experience they have passed on. I can’t speak highly enough of Packie, and John as well. It’s been superb.”

Now, just months after making his Tyrone debut in the McKenna Cup, Morgan stands on the cusp of a League winners’ medal, something Cluxton still hasn’t achieved after more than a decade of inter-county involvement.

Such an achievement would not just secure Morgan’s Championship place but, in all likelihood, spell the end of his soccer career.

“With the soccer, when you’re getting paid, there’s a bit more pressure,” admitted Morgan. “People are paying you for your performance. In terms of actually playing, there’s differences too. Whenever you catch the ball in Gaelic, you’re practically mauled. In soccer, you can roll about the ground for five or six seconds before you do anything with it. ”

Morgan admired Peter Schmeichel but says Craig Gordon, the man Roy Keane brought to Sunderland, was his soccer inspiration. In Gaelic football terms, he is following the lead of Meath’s Brendan Murphy and current Westmeath stopper Gary Connaughton by switching codes. It is Shane Curran, the AIB All-Ireland club title winning ex-Athlone Town goalkeeper that he associates with most.

“I think in soccer, you need to be crazier in goals,” he said. “The likes of Shane Curran epitomise that!

“But you can’t take anything from his goalkeeping. Some of the saves he pulls off are completely out of instinct.”

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