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Morgan Explains Why Armagh Have 'Unbelievable Chance' To Win Sam

Morgan Explains Why Armagh Have 'Unbelievable Chance' To Win Sam
By PJ Browne

"I'm going to grit my teeth and say this," says Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan, "I think Armagh have an unbelievable chance, not only of getting to a final, but actually winning an All-Ireland final."

Earlier this month, in the first round of the qualifiers, Tyrone's All-Ireland title defence was ended by Armagh. Morgan was clearly impressed by them, though not by their subsequent revenge victory over Donegal in the second round of the qualifiers. That's not because Morgan thought Armagh didn't play well. It's because, with Tyrone eliminated, he couldn't bear to watch. Instead, he took his son to the swimming pool.

'The way Armagh play is really going to suit Croke Park'

Now returned to playing with Edendork, Morgan has sufficient distraction to allow him watch this weekend when Armagh face Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

"I think the way Armagh play is really going to suit Croke Park," Morgan continues, speaking at the launch of AIB's new series, The Drive.

"They know when the time is right to bunch up at the back, and defend hard; they can open up the play, kick pass all around the pitch; they've got really exciting forwards; they've got tough defenders. It's probably their only area of weakness: have they got enough tough defenders? They've got a strong midfield.

"You want the trophy coming up the road [to Ulster] regardless of where it is going. I would like to say we're parochial in nature up in Ulster. You'll have your detractors in every county that don't want Armagh, Derry, or anybody [else from Ulster] to win, 'now that we're out, we don't want anybody to win, just call it off'. I would like to see the All-Ireland staying in Ulster.

"The biggest thing this weekend for them against Galway is who is going to pick up Shane Walsh in a space as big as Croke Park. We're all waiting on Shane to explode in a big game. I don't think it's too far away. That's going to be the game of the round."

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21 June 2022; Tyrone and Edendork St Malachy's footballer Niall Morgan pictured at the launch of AIB's new series, The Drive. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

A notable addition to Armagh's arsenal this year has been goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty, who previously played in the forwards and at midfield for the county. Rafferty scored two superb points in Armagh's victory over Tyrone.

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"At the start of the year, I thought it was madness," says Morgan.

"I didn't know whether it was going to work or not. I know he had a small bit of history in goals whenever he was younger. I thought it was too late to make a goalkeeper out of somebody. I've been proved seriously wrong.

"Bit by bit, he's grown into games. He's made his mistakes, surely. I sort of thought that come a big game, his [lack of] experience as a goalkeeper would let him down. I think Donegal really got on top of him in Ulster. Because of that, he's grown even more. He was excellent against us, and excellent against Donegal in the backdoor.

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"He's strong under the high ball, great at carrying the ball, and his kickouts have got a lot better. His shot-stopping is slowly improving. That's probably his only area of weakness. It's crazy to think that when talking about a goalkeeper, shot-stopping is now near the bottom of the list rather than at the top.

"I'd like to know what a goalkeeping specialist is! The game has changed, and evolved. A goalkeeping specialist is no longer somebody [who just stops shots]. That's a soccer goalkeeper, somebody who is all about shot-stopping. It's far more rounded now. We all have our goalkeeping coaches, we're all training in shot-stopping. We're trying our best.

"I play outfield for the club. Blaine Hughes plays outfield for the club. Ethan plays outfield for his club. Sometimes I find when somebody is running through, I'm trying to think, 'What would I do in his situation?' and then I go with that. Maybe it's a case of practising standing up a little bit more. I know a lot of goalkeeping coaches are talking about that. We did a lot of work on that this year."

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19 May 2019; Ethan Rafferty of Armagh in action against Conor Maginn of Down during the GAA Football Senior Championship quarter-final match between Down and Armagh at Páirc Esler in Newry. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Morgan says that it is hard for the opposition to mark a roving goalkeeper because they would have to leave somebody else free.

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"Then it leaves you open for a pop over the head, and you're away on the attack," says Morgan.

"That's the great thing about being a goalkeeper. It's hard to be marked. I know against Mayo in the All-Ireland last year, we had talked about whether they would mark me if I came out. They let me go, but the minute somebody came running to me, you had the pop over the head.

"The key is that if the goalkeeper does go, he needs support. We overturned [Armagh] at one stage because [Ethan Rafferty] went and nobody went with him. It could very easily have ended up in a goal. That could have changed things.

"I wouldn't have any worries if they did push up on him. He's played midfield for Armagh before. He's well versed on what to do if somebody is marking him."

The Drive explores the adversity faced by inter-county players in the modern game and what drives them to pull on the jersey year after year. Hosted by Ardal O'Hanlon, The Drive features the stories of four inter-county players and their journeys on and off the pitch, celebrating the incredible perseverance showed by players across the country, who despite logic, can't quit, no matter how tough it gets, because Tough Can't Quit. You can view the teaser for the series on AIB GAA's social channels.

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