Paddy Tally optimistic despite St Mary's losing influential stars
St Mary's University College coach Paddy Tally feels that his playing resources will be stretched to the limit over the next seven days during which the team must play three important games starting with tonight's confrontation with Fermanagh at Brewster Park, Enniskillen (8.00pm).
On Sunday, the west Belfast side face an even more difficult mission against reigning Ulster champions Monaghan at Clones before taking on Derry at Owenbeg this night week.
It's an itinerary that has suddenly been planted on the students in the wake of Sunday's postponed game against Fermanagh.
And Tally, who has already lost three important players – Niall Morgan, Danny McBride and Conor Clarke – who are lining out for Tyrone in the competition, is aware of the dangers that possible injuries or suspensions could present.
McBride actually attended the formal launch of the Power NI McKenna Cup in his role as St Mary's captain but has since represented the O'Neill county in their win over Donegal at the weekend.
Tally, who trained the Tyrone side which won the All-Ireland title in 2003 and is regarded as a leading coaching authority, is now keeping his fingers crossed that injuries and suspensions will not militate against his side's prospects of making headway in the competition.
"It is going to be a very tight seven days for us with three games in the offing and none of them will be easy, that's for sure," states Tally.
"With a small squad and in view of the comparative youth of some of our players this is asking a lot of them. Preparations have been going well but I have to say that we were disappointed when Sunday's game was called off."
Tally has one eye on the Sigerson Cup which is looming on the horizon and had been hoping to have his full complement of players available to him for the McKenna Cup.
Yet although he has been stripped of some of his more talented players in Conor McMahon, Peter Carragher, Aidan Forker, Thomas Canavan and the Johnston brothers from Down Ryan and Jerome, he can boast some of Ulster's brightest young prospects.
Certainly, the indications are that if St Mary's can hold firm defensively and gain a foothold at midfield, then they would appear to have the ammunition up front to discomfit any defence.
"Last year, we lost four players to Tyrone, two to Armagh and one to Fermanagh. This time round we are forced to ship another big burden and that's always difficult when you have limited numbers," adds Tally.
He nonetheless remains optimistic that his team can rise to what is certainly a demanding challenge, especially as they face trips to Enniskillen, Clones and Dungiven respectively.
"That's not a pleasant prospect at this time of the year but it's the hand we have been dealt," adds Tally.
"Maybe we can manage to come out of the competition a bit wiser than when we go into it. If we achieve this, then it will stand to us for the Sigerson Cup."
* NEW Roselea Shamrocks manager Mark Harte, son of Tyrone boss Mickey, has named Errigal Ciaran clubmate Aidan O'Donnell as his right hand man. Harte spent last season in charge of Tullylish.