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Harte faces loss of key men ahead of Tyrone's league opener

By John Campbell

Fate has dealt Tyrone manager Mickey Harte a cruel hand as he prepares for the start of the National Football League next weekend.

No other team boss will begin the second most important competition in the fixtures calendar burdened by absenteeism to the same extent as the Red Hands supremo will be facing.

For next Saturday’s important league opener against Derry, Harte is now stripped of five of his most decorated forwards — Sean Cavanagh, Brian Dooher, Stephen O’Neill, Owen Mulligan and Colm McCullagh.

Cavanagh and Dooher are still recovering from injuries, O’Neill joins them on the casualty list following his dislocated elbow in the McKenna Cup final, Mulligan is gearing up for Cookstown’s All Ireland Intermediate Club final against Spa on Sunday week and McCullagh is unavailable for domestic reasons.

Last year Derry manager Damian Cassidy was left to bemoan a rash of absenteeism that undermined his team’s championship challenge and now Harte is confronted by an intimidating litany of missing personnel as he bids to supervise an encouraging start to the league.

“When you have quality players like these missing it is a handicap but we have to go with what we have. Obviously we have had new players who have caught the eye in the McKenna Cup but Division One in the National League is a tough testing ground,” admits Harte.

His team is due to face Mayo following the short hop to Celtic Park and then Harte will face the task of trimming his squad although injuries appear to be making this task rather more straightforward than had been initially anticipated.

“Obviously some people will be back sooner than others so it’s a question of waiting to see what happens” observes Harte.

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