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Dr McKenna Cup: O’Neill is key to Tyrone success

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has received the ideal tonic in preparation for tomorrow’s Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup final against Derry — but it all came about by accident.

When Owen Mulligan received a yellow card in the first-half of last Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division Two win over Sligo, Harte feared that the possibility of a second yellow was on the horizon and introduced Stephen O’Neill for the Cookstown clubman at half-time.

O’Neill promptly responded to his elevation to the side by whipping over three superb points, including one from far out on the left touchline, that underpinned Tyrone’s 2-14 to 0-14 win — their first in the competition.

It’s hardly surprising that Harte will now look to O’Neill to fire up his attack against the Oak Leaf side in the Athletic Grounds, Armagh showdown although Mulligan, Martin Penrose, the in-form Sean Cavanagh and the influential Brian McGuigan are also all likely to have key roles.

The McKenna Cup final may have had to be re-arranged twice but, if anything, recent events have added considerable spice to tomorrow’s confrontation between these neighbouring rivals.

Derry overcame Tyrone in the opening round of the league but last weekend the landscape changed when John Brennan’s side collapsed against Justin McNulty’s Laois, losing by a whopping 1-21 to 1-7, while the Red Hands returned from Sligo with their first brace of league points that could prove invaluable in securing their Division Two status.

And Derry boss Brennan now finds himself confronted by a midfield headache. Laois pair Pauric Clancy and Colm Begley completely outplayed PJ McCloskey and Niall Holly thus laying the foundations for their team’s victory.

Brennan may turn again to the abrasive James Conway to bolster this area while Harte may stick with Kevin Hughes and Colm Cavanagh who formed his engine-room against Sligo.

He is without Enda McGinley, Peter Harte and Niall McKenna but believes that his side will have gained in confidence from their win over Sligo.

“We had been doing things quite well in earlier games but not getting scores. Then against Sligo we started to click and when Stephen O’Neill came on it was a big help. The players knew that a third defeat on the trot would have plunged us into serious relegation difficulties and they responded very well.

“We have to build on that now starting against Derry,” says Harte.

Dermot Carlin missed the Sligo match because of flu but should return while Ryan McMenamin will again captain the side.

Tyrone’s defence has not been very solid of late but it has to be remembered that key personnel like Justin McMahon and Philip Jordan are still missing.

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