By Niall Gartland
TYRONE can call upon previous experience of negotiating the downfall of their All-Ireland quarter-final opponents Kerry, but Niall Morgan was at pains to point out that they really need to be operating at top gear against these teams at the very top of the footballing food chain.
The Red Hands claimed a memorable victory over Kerry in the 2021 All-Ireland semi-final and they also have a strong recent league record against Jack O’Connor’s side, claiming home and away victories spanning the last two seasons.
But Tyrone can be a mercurial sort of side and it was only a fortnight ago that they came inches away from bowing out of the race for Sam in an extremely close shave indeed against Westmeath. Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher’s side lived to fight another day when John Heslin’s late free drifted narrowly wide of the target, and to their credit they produced a much-improved showing in their Preliminary Quarter-Final clash against Donegal last weekend.
Whether they can repeat the trick against the big fish from Kerry remains to be seen, but Morgan recognises that they’ll need to replicate the intensity of the Donegal performance if they’re to upset the odds at Croke Park on Saturday afternoon.
Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan said: “Kerry are always there when it comes to the big games at Croke Park at the end of the season. You know you’re coming up against a giant of a team. If you’re not on your game, they’ll hammer you. They want to score goals and put games to bed early, so we have a huge week ahead of us in terms of the amount of work we need to do.”
Tyrone’s trademark intensity was evident in their eight-point victory over Donegal last weekend. Morgan had as good a view as any of the work-rate of the Red Hand rearguard, and he says it’s good old fashioned hard work is a non-negotiable factor if they’re to progress further in the race for the Sam Maguire.
“We have noticed some of the talk that goes on outside the camp in the last while, it can be hard to block it all out, it can dent the confidence a bit but we knew what we had to do to become a good team.
“We had to work hard, and I know Darragh [Canavan] and Darren [McCurry] are shooting the lights out but we probably don’t have a David Clifford, who’ll maybe kick the equivalent of 12 points a day no matter how he plays.
“We know we have to put our shoulders to the wheel and that’s what we did against Donegal. It was more Tyrone-looking, how hard we tried to win the ball back when we didn’t have it. We didn’t bring that intensity to proceedings against Westmeath so we know how important it is to do it on a consistent basis.”
Morgan was relieved, it’s fair to say, to be handed a reprieve when they stayed in the All-Ireland race by the skin of their teeth against Westmeath. He didn’t even realise they were on the cusp of bowing out when Heslin lined up his last-gasp free. The game finished a draw – just about enough to avoid finishing bottom of their group.
“I didn’t realise when Heslin got ready to take the free that Armagh were leading Galway, so I was relatively calm. That mood could have shifted very, very handily, the summer could have been over and I could’ve been back playing club football last Friday night.
“Look I suppose we were always going to be able to get ourselves up for Donegal in Ballybofey and the challenge is to stay at that level going forward, and we’ll be working on our deficiencies that easily could’ve cost us [against Donegal].
Morgan, who has been on the intercounty scene since 2013, is looking forward to his latest outing at Croke Park. He says that it’s a stadium that Tyrone relish playing in.
“I’m fortunate since I’ve come around that I’ve been in Croke Park nearly every year. It’s somewhere we enjoy playing in.
“If you’re getting games in Croke Park, you know you’re in the right end of the season and it sparks us into life a bit, so we’re just glad to get the opportunity to play there.”