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Tyrone fired up for big tests

By John Campbell

When Tyrone manager Mickey Harte indicated at the start of the year that newcomers to his side would not be “keeping the jerseys warm” for more established players even he at his most optimistic could not have envisaged the rich seam of resources which would come his way.

Seven straight wins, spiralling confidence and red-hot competition for virtually every slot in his side mean that Harte can anticipate the resumption of National Football League action on March 3 with considerable relish.

With Conor Gormley, Davy Harte, Ryan McMenamin and Sean Cavanagh still to start a game in 2012, Harte is aware that he has a battery of experience awaiting the call to arms.

But such is the potency of the talent within his line-up that not only have the vacancies created by the retirements of Brian McGuigan, Brian Dooher, Philip Jordan, Enda McGinley, Ciaran Gourley and Kevin Hughes been adequately filled but the remaining members of the old guard cannot expect a summons to frontline duty quite yet — if at all, indeed.

Not that Harte, the most pragmatic of managers, is in the least beguiled by his team’s whirlwind start to the new campaign.

“While it was nice to win the McKenna Cup and get those couple of early league wins, no major silverware is on offer at this time of the year. The weeks ahead will give us a better idea of where we are at and will allow us to challenge ourselves,” insists Harte.

Yet Tyrone are not just coming out on top in games right now — they are winning them with style and panache, as Derry in particular will verify having been on the receiving end of a sharp lesson in the McKenna Cup final before last Sunday’s unedifying mauling in Omagh.

Martin Penrose, one of Harte’s most trusted foot-soldiers, perhaps best articulates the mood within the side when he declares: “The new players are keeping the rest of us on our toes. Their enthusiasm and commitments makes the rest of us aware that unless we step up to the mark we won’t be there.” Harte, of course, would have it no other way. He brought three seasoned All-Ireland winners — the McMahon brothers Joe and Justin along with Sean Cavanagh — on as substitutes at the weekend while continuing to hold quality players such as John Devine, Jonny Laverty, Ronan O’Neill and Niall McKenna in reserve.

Throw in the fact that Colm Cavanagh is out injured and Sean O’Neill is under suspension and it can be clearly seen that when next month dawns Harte’s selection options could be nothing short of lavish.

Yet Harte is not so much keeping the lid of expectations as suggesting that his team can revel even more when pitted against quality opposition.

“We still have a lot of hard games to play in the league and that’s not even thinking about the championship,” added Harte. “I have to say that I would rather be where we are now than where we were at this time last year. We are closing games out and it’s important that we continue to get consistency over the entire course of games and not just in spells.”

Tyrone still have to meet Galway, Meath, Westmeath, Louth and Monaghan in Division Two.

On current form, a place in Division One next year looks to be very much on the cards.

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