By Chris Caldwell
SATURDAY’S clash at Pearse Park against Longford is ‘do or die’ for Tyrone according to goalkeeper, Niall Morgan.
After seeing their Ulster Championship hopes dashed by Donegal following a disappointing semi-final performance, the Red Hand men find themselves once more thrust into the Qualifiers.
And while that is far from the ideal scenario for last season’s All-Ireland runners-up, it proved the right path 12 months ago as they reached the final at Croke Park only to lose narrowly against an all-conquering Dublin.
“It’s not the preferred option but it did us no harm last year as we got on the road and got a few victories and plenty of boys game time,” observed the Edendork star.
“Boys who were recovered from injuries got game minutes which are a whole lot more beneficial than game minutes and it will do us no harm.
“Obviously its not the desired route but that’s the way it is and we will give it a crack. We are still alive and kicking.
“It’s the only option open to us now, it’s do or die and we are determined to make the most of it as we don’t want our season to end early.
“It’s now like club championship football in Tyrone, there isn’t another chance and we have to go out with that attitude and perform.”
Being in the last chance saloon as far as a tilt at the Sam Maguire and a summer of Championship football goes could well benefit this Tyrone side as it leaves no room for error and will focus minds.
And that is probably exactly what they need following a below par performance in their provincial last four encounter against Donegal a fortnight ago.
Since then they have refocused their efforts in training after spending time dissecting where it went wrong against the Tír Conaill men.
“It was very disappointing and in the immediate aftermath of the game it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong,” the 27-year-old explained.
“We made a lot of poor decisions out on the field and some days you just have to hold your hands up and say that you were beaten by the better team and Donegal were certainly the better team on the day and well worth their victory.
“There wasn’t one individual player who you could put the finger on and say that he had a poor game and let us down. It’s a team game and the whole team just didn’t perform to that level.
“Thankfully we have had a couple of weeks training since the Donegal game and we have worked hard on the things that didn’t go well for us the last day.
“If this weekend’s game had come just a week after that defeat we maybe would have been papering over cracks so to speak to it was good to get that extra week.
“We talked about the Donegal game and we were all brutally honest with each other and held our hands up and we know that we have a number of things to fix.
“Our basics were good the last day and we have worked on them and training has went well and there is a good positivity about the place.”
On the back of those mood-lifting training sessions, Tyrone’s attentions have switched to Saturday’s trip to Longford, which Morgan admits is a potential banana skin for the visitors.
While their hosts this coming weekend ply their league trade in Division Three, the Red Hand netminder knows that their hosts have enjoyed success against top flight opposition before.
“I’m well aware however of their record in the qualifiers, particularly at home, as they have beaten the likes of Monaghan in recent times,” he observed.
“I’m sure at the start of the year winning an All-Ireland wasn’t a target for Longford but taking on and beating a Division One side would be very realistic for them.
“They will feel that they have at least one big game in them and would see us as a big scalp and we have to be ready for the battle that lies ahead.
“They might play their league football in division three but as we have seen time and time again that means nothing when it comes to the qualifiers as anything can happen on any given day.”
With such a gulf between the two sides in terms of league status, the pressure on Saturday would appear to be all on Tyrone, and that is a view Morgan shares.
He believes Longford can go into the clash with relative abandon, but he has warned that his side will be focused and ready.
“There is no pressure on Longford, it’s the ideal scenario for them,” he suggested.
“A free hit if you like. It’s a win win for them and a lose lose for us so we need to be on our guard and we certainly won’t be taking them for granted.
“I was talking to a friend of mine from Kildare and he was telling me how difficult it was for them at Pearse Park in the Leinster championship when they got a draw after extra-time.
“He said the pitch is tight and when Longford played well the home support really got behind them so it’s a dangerous game for us.”