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'Rufflegate' star can be Red Hands' powerhouse

By John Campbell

Published 28/04/2016

Key role: Tiernan McCann is ready for Derry clash
Key role: Tiernan McCann is ready for Derry clash

A player whose expulsion from the Tyrone team was being urged via social media last year is now set to fulfill a key role in the forthcoming Ulster Championship.

Tiernan McCann found himself at the centre of the now infamous 'Rufflegate' affair following his spectacular dive when Monaghan's Darren Hughes swept his hand through his hair in an innocuous gesture during the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Hughes was inexplicably shown a red card for the offence by referee Martin Duffy, McCann bounced back to his feet and the Red Hands went on to win the game before losing to Kerry in at the semi-final stage.

McCann was handed down a retrospective eight-week ban but this was subsequently rescinded by the Central Hearings Committee.

Despite the furore which McCann's action precipitated, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte retained faith in the player.

His assessment of McCann's playing skills was never more fully vindicated than in last Sunday's Allianz League Division Two win over Cavan when the Killyclogher clubman deservedly lifted the man of the match award following a powerhouse display in which his link work between defence and attack was exceptional.

Now McCann will be central to the team's strategy for the Ulster Championship in which they will meet Derry in the first of the quarter-finals at Celtic Park on May 22.

And the player himself, last year's unwanted brush with the spotlight firmly behind him, can't wait to return to action.

"It's still very early days in the season but our thoughts are now very much on this match against Derry next month," states McCann.

"The match is at Celtic Park where Derry will present a massive challenge for us. Our thoughts are completely on that game."

Tyrone's victory over Cavan has provided manager Harte with a further pre-championship boost and infused players such as McCann with added determination to end a six-year Ulster title famine.

"Cavan played to the very, very last second against us on Sunday," points out McCann.

"You simply cannot afford to take your foot off the pedal at this level. They had given us a really tough game when we met them earlier in the league so we knew it was going to be a case of same again when we confronted them on Sunday. It went right to the final whistle as we thought it would."

The match extended Tyrone's unbeaten run to 15 games since mid-December, a record that is bettered only by a Dublin side reckoned to be one of the best ever to grace gaelic football.

The mighty Dubs have not lost in 22 outings, their last defeat coming at the hands of Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland Championship

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