THE start of the new inter-county season is only a matter of weeks away, and Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan says the mood in the camp is happy and harmonious ahead of their looming McKenna Cup campaign.
Tyrone’s All-Ireland defence came to a premature end all the way back in early June against Armagh, but he believes the lengthy break has done them no harm in conjunction with the determination to prove a point to themselves as much as anyone else.
Pitted against Fermanagh and Derry in the group stages of the 2023 McKenna Cup campaign (dates and venues still to be confirmed), Tyrone have returned to Garvaghey in recent weeks, and despite the freezing weather conditions there’s a general sense of appreciation.
Morgan, who is entering his eleventh season on the Tyrone panel, said: “I get the impression that the lads are happy to be back – we all know we have a bit of a point to prove, not just to outsiders but to ourselves.
“It didn’t feel like it at the time, but the way last season ended up, it felt like a bit of a waste of time. Everyone’s happy to be back and I’ve always said that if people don’t want to be there, they know where the exit is.
“County football isn’t for the faint-hearted, it’s for people who want to put their shoulders to the wheel for the good of the collective unit,” he added.
Having claimed a fourth All-Ireland Senior Championship in 2021, Tyrone’s back-to-back tilt never really got off the tracks.
A protracted club season preceded by a team holiday to Florida, as enjoyable as it must have been, left the side playing catch up and the rest is history. In theory, things should be smoother this time around.
“I felt like I was in good shape last winter because I was back playing games with the club, but there’s a massive difference between club and county fitness. The reality is a lot of clubs were just fulfilling fixtures and we weren’t really putting in the hard yards.
“That was different this year because club games mattered right until the very end, the way the season played out I know it was a bit different for some of the other lads but we’re back together with Tyrone at the right time and we’re getting the opportunity to get in a lot of work before the McKenna Cup even begins.”
The McKenna Cup has been a happy hunting ground for Tyrone down the years, but Morgan has conflicted feelings about the oft-maligned pre-season competition.
“If it’s structured in the right way, it’s a great competition as if gives new players a chance to test themselves against established intercounty players in other counties. It gives those lads a first taster of it before the blood and thunder of the league.
“There’s fewer teams this year which is mainly a positive thing as it gives teams a bit more of a break between games than in the past, although I loved seeing the university teams get their chance to play in it.
“Maybe they could adjust the roles a bit – if more subs were permitted to come on, it would give teams a better chance to try out new players.”