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McCurry out to take big opportunity with Tyrone attack

By Declan Bogue

Looking through the Tyrone team that beat Donegal's Under-21s by 23 points in the McKenna Cup on Wednesday night was instructive.

They listed only 21 players. Even if they had wanted to use their full complement of outfield substitutes, they hadn't the man power.

"That's all who were fit and available," said Mickey Harte afterwards, and when pressed on if he had known it as bad during his time at the helm, he referred to three days prior.

"On Sunday, we had to call in three of the Under-21 panel to make up our team. We had 19 players there so we had to call in some players," he said.

For this weekend's semi-final with Fermanagh, they can bring back stellar names such as Conor Meyler and Mark Bradley from college teams. Full-back Ronan McNamee has returned from a holiday in Australia, the three Pomeroy clubmen are chasing Intermediate glory and Joe McMahon - an institution among Tyrone fans who has spent the last 18 months trying to overcome injury - was sitting in the press box on Wednesday.

Harte never makes any secret of his desire to play as many games in the Dr McKenna Cup, and when you look through players past and present you see men who have made their bones in January, when the appetite can be questionable and the chances are fleeting.

Harte can never be accused of throwing in youngsters at the deep end and always prefers to staff the spine of the team with experience, but stretched as the panel was for the opening day defeat to Cavan, that simply wasn't possible.

"Neither ourselves or many Tyrone supporters were very pleased coming out of Breffni Park," said Harte.

"Now we have another game, we have a fourth game. We always say the more games you get competitively at this time of year, the better we feel about it, so another competitive game on Sunday will be great."

In the debit column has been the injury list. Rory Brennan has difficulties with his shoulder from that first outing, while Connor McAliskey is out for the season with a cruciate ligament rupture.

Somewhat under-rated and forgotten about in the conversation revolving around Tyrone's attacking talent, McAliskey brings an unpredictability that will surely be missed.

His absence, however, creates opportunity. While Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan's club performances - topping the scoring charts as their respective Killyclogher and Trillick sides have won the last two Tyrone Championships - have created a buzz around themselves, Darren McCurry reminded everyone of his capabilities.

The 24-year-old Edendork man, known to his clubmates as 'Dazzler', hit six points in a man of the match display, a few of them from around the 50 metre range. Long-range scoring appears to be something he has added to his repertoire, quite a handy asset in today's world of blanket defences.

However, gaining more game time is not a given. He acknowledged: "It always has been tough to get on the team, I found that out myself last year. I struggled to get my performances going. But that's good because that brings out the best in you and you are always striving.

"There are a lot of the new boys playing well. The likes of Lee (Brennan) is coming into his own now. Cahir (McCullagh) is doing very well, Declan McClure… All the young lads are getting plenty of experience and they are doing the job."

McCurry is something of an anomaly in that he arrived almost fully-formed in the summer of 2012, making his debut in a qualifier against Roscommon and hitting four points from play, prompting no less than legend Owen Mulligan to hail the then 19-year-old as "different gravy". Although he is named and appears to be comfortable around the half-forward line, it has not stopped him contributing to the scoreboard.

Tomorrow's semi-final against neighbours Fermanagh is a repeat of last year.

That game opened with three impressive Sean Quigley points to no response from Tyrone, prompting Harte to station Colm Cavanagh just in front of the Erne hotshot.

With the scores 0-4 apiece at half-time, the contest ended when Fermanagh and Ulster captain Eoin Donnelly's outstretched arm caught his second cousin - Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly - high and he was issued his second yellow.

The Red Hands won five of the next six restarts and with more possession eased their way to a 1-13 to 0-9 win.

But Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath has never hid his ambitions for this team and prior to Christmas, after he successfully managed Ulster to victory in the Inter-provincial final over Connacht, was revisiting a familiar theme.

"I think there are many teams in Ulster who have legitimate claims to feel they can win Ulster, and I feel Fermanagh are one of those. I really do," he said after five Fermanagh players - Michael Jones, Donnelly, Aidan Breen, Declan McCusker and Tomas Corrigan - made up a third of the team that finished that final.

"You can look and say, Donegal, Tyrone, Monaghan and then maybe there is a few coming behind that. I honestly believe that we have the players and we are gathering the experience and the know-how to make ourselves very serious challengers in 2017.

"We know that every game in Ulster is a massive challenge. But if we come out of the league with the same benefit as we had in 2016, going into the Championship we can be very positive."

After Fermanagh left the All-Ireland race with defeat to Mayo, the game that became famous after Aidan O'Shea's tumble under the slightest of contact and the subsequent controversial penalty, McGrath considered his options.

Ultimately, his enthusiasm for football, mirrored by the playing resources, made him return.

"They are a great bunch of players to work with, they are highly talented. We may not have the numbers that other counties have, but I know that we have the makings of a really, really good team," he added.

A good team that needs a scalp of sorts. Even if it's the McKenna Cup.

 

Tyrone

Fermanagh

Dr McKenna Cup semi-final:

St Tiernach's Park, Sunday, 2pm

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