When Tyrone manager Mickey Harte confirms his line-up shortly before tomorrow night’s Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup final against Donegal at Brewster Park, Enniskillen (7pm) he will do so in the hope that the chosen players will not only deliver the first trophy of the season but will also minimise his selection task for next Saturday’s attractive National League opener against Derry.
No team in the entire country has come close to matching Tyrone’s power and flamboyance this month with a catalogue of stunning statistics encapsulating their frenetic start to 2010.
Nor indeed can their pedigree in the competition since the dawn of the new millennium be challenged.
The enduring image of their late captain Cormac McAnallen holding the McKenna Cup aloft against the backdrop of a cloudless sky in Ballybofey in 2004 was to provide the dynamic for a sustained period of Tyrone dominance in the competition that extended through 2005, ’06 and ’07 before Down ended their reign in ’08.
Already this year the Red Hands have scored a staggering 7-73 in four games, used over 30 players in the process and significantly clipped the odds on their chances of winning the National League and perhaps even the All Ireland title. When it comes to strength in depth, scoring artistry and sky-high fitness levels, Tyrone appear to be in a class of their own.
Manager Harte’s twin difficulties of trying to accommodate as many players as possible in his selection process while at the same time striving to curb the rampant expectations sweeping the county are perhaps not the most unpleasant problems in Irish sport, though.
Nonetheless the canny triple All Ireland winning boss is approaching tomorrow night’s second assignment against Donegal within just 10 days with considerable caution.
When the sides met in Ballybofey on Wednesday week last ,stalemate ensued in what proved a spectacular score-fest but Harte will seek a more positive outcome this time round.
“We’re happy with the way things are going but remember this is a secondary competition,” he said.
His senior citizens such as Conor Gormley, Joe McMahon, Enda McGinley and Martin Penrose have been setting the tone for a battalion of young guns that includes Peter Harte, Niall McKenna, Matthew Donnelly, Gareth Devlin and Kyle Coney and the overall cocktail has proven particularly potent to date.
Donegal manager John Joe Doherty would love to retain the cup but has his sights set on bigger fish.
“We’re in another McKenna Cup final and while we would obviously like to retain the trophy now that we have got this far, we have our sights on the National League in which we are keen to get promotion,” said Doherty.