"If I was fit enough, I'd want to play outfield for Tyrone." - Morgan on changing times for goalkeepers 5 months ago

"If I was fit enough, I'd want to play outfield for Tyrone." - Morgan on changing times for goalkeepers

"Goalkeepers generally aren't very good Gaelic footballers. If they were, they wouldn’t be goalkeepers."

That was Darragh Ó Sé, shooting from the hip in last month's Irish Times in a manner that, when you think about it, all of his family can.

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"No county is so overloaded with high-class inter-county footballers that they can afford to stick one of them in goal," he continued, in his own way of saying that, if you're a goalkeeper and not a ball-player, you should stay in goals.

Period.

You'd think Niall Morgan would be offended.

Prior to Ethan Rafferty's emergence, let's not forget, and as far as goalkeepers go, you'd have to say that Morgan was the best roamer in the business. He has speed and he has composure - the two most important survival ingredients a long way from home - and that's why, after his 2021 displays, some people said he'd be good enough to start out the field for Tyrone if he wanted to.

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But even though he joins the attack and kicks passes and points as well as the next man, Morgan has enough self-awareness to see where the Kerry-man is coming from.

"If I was fit enough, I'd want to play outfield for Tyrone," he says.

"I can see Darragh's argument, to an extent. I'm sure Ethan, if he had his way, he'd rather play outfield for Armagh as well."

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18 July 2021; Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Donegal and Tyrone at Brewster Park in Enniskillen, Fermanagh. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

But the point is that, unlike many of their peers, Morgan and Rafferty wouldn't be far off starting out the field for their counties. That's why, in many ways, they're the exceptions to Darragh Ó Sé's rule.

Ó Sé's argument revolved around the point that, in Rory Beggan, you have a goalkeeper who's trying to be something he's not. Morgan, on the other-hand, name-checked Beggan as a goalkeeper who is able to mix it out the field but none-the-less, he agrees with Ó Sé's general point. If you're not a ball-playing goalkeeper, then don't try to be.

"Teams are really going to start using this evolving keeper role. It's just important that they make sure the people doing it are capable of doing it, and it's not just a case of 'Oh we saw Niall Morgan, Rory Beggan or Ethan Rafferty doing this so we want you to do this'. You might have a goalkeeper panicking, and getting nervous, and not wanting to do any of his jobs."

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"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."

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

And that's why his experience of playing out the field for Edendork has done no harm, though he has one point to make on Ó Sé's argument.

"There's not too many outfielders that you can put in nets either."

Ethan Rafferty is the obvious exception, and that's exactly how it's put to Morgan.

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

"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.

"But 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. But because of that, he's grown even more. He was excellent against us, and excellent against Donegal in the backdoor. 

"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."

So, maybe that's it. You're either a ball-playing goalkeeper, like Morgan or Rafferty, or you've a lot to work on.

And if you haven't got the work done, then don't be going out there until you're ready to rock and roll.

21 June 2022; Tyrone and Edendork St Malachy's goalkeeper Niall Morgan pictured at the launch of AIB’s new series, The Drive, which explores the adversity faced by inter-county players in the modern game and what drives them to pull on the jersey year after year. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile