It was a continuation into early summer of the springtime enjoyed by the charismatic netminder, who had fired over an amazing 18 points as Tyrone reached the Allianz League Division One final, where they lost by the odd point in 35 to Dublin.
However, Morgan’s over-celebrated point against Donegal was the only one he would score in the championship, as Jim McGuinness’s All-Ireland champions rolled over Tyrone 2-10 to 0-10.
Morgan left with his tail between his legs and his season was cut short having picked up a knee injury, which later required surgery, playing for his club Edendork as Donegal surrendered Sam without so much as a whimper.
Yesterday in Letterkenny, Morgan was back in goal and back in the headlines as he kicked three points and saved a Michael Murphy penalty as an inexperienced Tyrone side overcame Donegal in their Dr McKenna Cup Section A opener.
The fact Tyrone kicked 14 wides to Donegal’s four illustrates their superiority.
“We probably did not expect to come out of the game with a win but we hoped to be very close but as the game progressed our players saw that we had a chance of winning the game,” Tyrone manager Mickey Harte said.
Typically, Morgan was in the middle of the first real debate when he tugged down Donegal’s debutant forward Darach O’Connor on 21 minutes. Referee Barry Cassidy decided to keep his back card, and indeed his yellow, in his pocket.
Morgan, as he did last March in the Allianz League at Healy Park, dived low to his left to stop Murphy’s penalty. It was an excellent save and one that kept the score at 0-3 apiece after an opening that was more interesting than explosive.
Both team shuttled back and left their respective full-forward lines isolated amid a plethora of turnovers. Space narrowed as the fear of claustrophobia grew and McGuinness and Harte, despite what both might’ve publicly admitted, were playing chess in coloured jerseys.
One thing that wasn’t as obvious a feature compared to previous meetings of the bordering counties was the level of cynicism.
Perhaps it was the threat of the black card but Eamon McGee broke from full-back line unchallenged to edge Donegal in front.
Then, on 31 minutes, Tyrone opted not to inhibit Murphy after a loose ball broke around halfway by the sideline under the O’Donnell Park stand. The Donegal captain enjoyed a free passage forward before slamming a belter of a goal past Morgan to put the hosts in front, 1-5 to 0-5, at half-time.
Donegal, who had played against the wind, seemed to be in a position to win only their second match in 10 under McGuinness in the Ulster season’s curtain-raising competition.
And starting with eight of those who began the All-Ireland final in 2012, a considerable level of experience on home turf appeared as though it would be enough. Harte’s team, who had only Conor Clarke, Ciaran McGinley and Mattie Donnelly on board from their All-Ireland semi-final loss to Mayo last August, were certainly wetter behind the ears.
Donegal’s legs looked heavier as substitutes Peter Hughes and Kevin Gallagher resuscitated Tyrone’s hopes. Paddy McNiece and Ronan O’Neill helped Tyrone back to 0-10 to 1-7.
With 11 minutes left, the contest was at tipping point.
Rory Kavanagh was given the black card following a block on Tiernan McCann, moments after Martin O’Reilly, who would later leave in an ambulance, was forced to be withdrawn due to concussion.
Morgan, maintaining his composure, pierced the resultant free through the greying skies and over, to ensure Tyrone led for the first time since Colm McFadden had opened Donegal’s account to scratch out O’Neill’s opener.
Murphy was fortunate to only receive a yellow after a stern challenge on Mattie Donnelly. Morgan’s third of the day and Peter Hughes’s point sealed a useful win for Tyrone in front of 3,302 spectators.
“We fatigued badly towards the end there in the second-half ,” McGuinness said afterwards. “but we’ve a bit of work done there in the last three or four weeks so it was a chance to get some game time.”
DONEGAL: P Durcan; F McGlynn, E McGee (0-1), E Doherty; Declan Walsh, L McLoone, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, O MacNiallais; G McFadden, D Molloy, M O’Reilly; D O’Connor, M Murphy (1-4, 1f), C McFadden (0-2, 1f).
Subs: T McKinley for O’Reilly (57), A McFadden for Kavanagh (black card, 58)
TYRONE: N Morgan (0-3, 2f, 45); A McCroary, C Clarke, B Tierney; C
McGinley, D McBride, T McCann (0-1); P Kane, C Grugan; N McKenna, S McGuigan (0-1), E McKenna; P McNiece (0-4, 2f), Mattie Donnelly, R O’Neill (0-3, 1f).
Subs: K Gallagher and P Hughes (0-1) for Kane and McKenna (half-time), R McNamee for McBride (50).
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).