Harte: It's a case of getting consistency at this level
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is looking forward to the customary stern test against their neighbours Derry in tonight's Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final (Athletic Grounds Armagh, throw-in 7.30pm), but stops short of saying that a win in January is any guarantee of what might happen further down the line.
The two will meet in the National League in Omagh in March, before an Ulster showdown in Celtic Park in May.
Although Tyrone have already beaten Damian Barton's men in December's O'Fiaich Cup and the group stages of the Dr McKenna Cup final, Harte warns that Championship has an atmosphere all of its own. "I don't think it matters how many times you meet anybody, the Championship is the Championship and it takes on a life of its own," said the three-time All-Ireland winning manager. "I don't think it would matter if you met them 40 times on the way, the Championship is a new game, there's a new competitive nature about it and I don't think that any of the games that go before it have any real significance on that day."
Harte has managed that delicate blend of winning matches while also handing auditions to players of potential over the last few weeks.
Names such as David Mulgrew, the schoolboy at Holy Trinity school, Cookstown, along with the McGeary brothers Hugh Pat and Kieran, Harry Óg Conlon and Lee Brennan, have blended with others who were tagged onto the panel last year such as Rory Brennan, Cathal McShane, Richie Donnelly and Conor Meyler.
Meanwhile, the established leaders such as Sean and Colm Cavanagh, Peter Harte and Justin McMahon are being introduced gradually into the season.
Harte admits that the performances of his extended panel has left him in a quandary when selecting a panel for the National League.
"Everybody that came in has acquitted themselves well and they've shown that if they're not ready now for senior inter-county football they certainly have a future in it," he said.
"That's the decision we have to make, who is ready to come in just now, who would benefit from coming in now and would some players maybe need some more times to go to their clubs and mature another little bit."
He added: "They are not easy decisions to make. We have a few men with long-term injuries who aren't available just now so there may be an interim time when some of those players might have to stay on anyway to give us the full complement that we want to be competitive in our training."
Even with the likes of Joe McMahon expected to come back in for the league, Harte rules out wholesale changes in his panel.
"There will be some changes but a lot of the players you've been watching over the last month or so will be here."
Harte also defended the abilities of his free-takers after they had an attack of the 'yips' early on against Fermanagh in the semi-final last weekend.
"Nobody can say there's a 90 per cent chance of that going over the bar but after a poorish start Connor McAliskey performed very well as the game progressed.
"He got two '45s' or free-kicks from that kind of distance and some others.
"I know he's very capable. Darren McCurry is very capable, Ronan O'Neill is very capable, Niall Morgan is capable of kicking frees.
"It's just a question of getting the consistency you need to really push on at this level.
"The players know what that percentage return needs to be and it's up to them to make sure they're one of the people who can deliver that."
TYRONE (v Derry): N Morgan; C McCarron, R McNamee, HP McGeary; T McCann, Justin McMahon, B Tierney; C Cavanagh, C Clarke; H Óg Conlon, M Donnelly, C McShane; L Brennan, R O'Neill, P Quinn
DERRY (v Tyrone): T Mallon; C Mullan, D McBride, K McKaigue; G McKinless, C McKaigue, D Heavron; B Rogers, E Bradley; E Lynn, J Kielt, B Heron; S Heavron, C O'Boyle, R Bell