Tyrone wary of Kildare threat in final showdown
Mickey Harte has once again rung the changes for this Sunday’s National League division two final against Kildare in Croke Park.
From the team that concluded their 100% league programme with assured victory over Monaghan, out goes Pascal McConnell, in keeping with Harte’s policy of rotating goalkeepers through the league.
Conor Gormley has come in for Justin McMahon (pictured), who was struggling with a hamstring injury, and could be handed the task of looking after Johnny Doyle for the contest.
Damian McCaul comes in for his fifth start of the season at left half-back, while Aidan Cassidy starts in midfield, replacing Michael Murphy.
In attack, Niall McKenna takes his place at full-forward as a direct replacement for the injured Kyle Coney.
Red Hands selector Tony Donnelly is well aware of the threat Kildare carry.
Last season, Tyrone used a free week in the league programme to take themselves to The Castletroy Hotel the weekend before a crunch league fixture against the Lillywhites, which they subsequently won 0-13 to 0-5.
Donnelly recognises the value of a team spending time with each other working hard, and sounded a note of caution when he said: “They have their training camp behind them and when you look at it, we played them in the first game [which Tyrone won, 2-11 to 0-12] and the results have certainly improved since then for them.
“Fitness levels would have improved from then too. A lot of people said of that game that we won by five — the difference was, we had a couple of goal chances and took them, they had goal chances and didn't take them.
“We'd like to think that we have got fitter and stronger too as well, so we'd be hoping for a real keen contest coming up to the weekend.”
Tyrone’s campaign was set alight by a healthy dose of young talent, but an unfortunate series of injuries have robbed them of young attackers Ronan O'Neill and Kyle Coney, while the experienced Tommy McGuigan opted out of the rest of the season last week with ongoing fitness concerns.
Donnelly revealed that O'Neill went under the knife this week to correct his cruciate ligament injury.
“Ronan got his operation on Tuesday and the first reports are that it all went well, thank God. He's happy that it is behind him and the real recovery starts from post-operation time.
“There's a slow build-up of rehab, but with Louis O'Connor and Michael Harte — our physios — he's in good hands. The player has to be patient and follow instructions to the programmes they are given. But Ronan's a very dedicated young lad, a great lad and you would be hoping with his focus and determination and all that, he will get back.”
Coney was playing for his club Ardboe when he injured himself while taking a free in a league game against Greencastle.
His operation will be in the very near future and Donnelly reflected on the freakish nature of how it occurred.
“It sounds a bit like Big Sean's [Cavanagh] shoulder, when the muscle came away from the bone when he was doing bench-presses. It seems a similar type of thing to happen.”
While they have fallen out of contention, the Tyrone attack has an experienced look to it, with the inclusion of both Owen Mulligan and Stephen O’Neill.
“You don't want to be sort of callous and cold-hearted about it by moving on and saying it's an opportunity for someone else to progress” commented Donnelly, “but in reality, we can't sit on this and bemoan our bad luck. We have to move on.
“There's a squad and there's good opportunities for everyone, for someone to stake a claim for themselves.
“That's how it is and that's why most counties carry 30-plus players in their squad.
“There are always going to be a percentage of those players picking up short to long term injuries. Unfortunately these two are more long-term than you would have wished on anybody, but we just have to deal with that as best we can.”
Team: Jonathan Curran, Aidan McCrory, Conor Gormley, PJ Quinn, Cathal McCarron, Peter Harte, Damian McCaul, Aidan Cassidy, Colm Cavanagh, Ronan McNabb, Mark Donnelly, Sean Cavanagh, Owen Mulligan, Niall McKenna , Stephen O’Neill. Subs: Pascal McConnell, Conor Clarke, Ciaran Gervin,Peter Hughes, Jonathan Lafferty, Joe McMahon, Ryan McMenamin, Stephen McNally, Patrick McNiece, Stephen McNulty, Michael Murphy.