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Booking a league semi is the goal for Harte

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is preparing for what he hopes will prove a grandstand climax to the Allianz Football League.

He may have shipped criticism following his team's recent second half collapse against Kerry and then gained a ration of comfort from last Sunday's win over struggling Westmeath but with mouth-watering contests against Dublin and Cork lined up between now and the start of next month, Harte feels his team can send out a defiant message in advance of the Ulster championship.

And in striving to fully restore morale within his squad, the triple All-Ireland winning manager can take comfort from several areas.

Conor Gormley, Justin McMahon and Martin Penrose, three of his more experienced foot-soldiers, are expected to get game time in either or both of these games; Peter Harte will be afforded a further opportunity to settle in at wing-back having worn the No 6 shirt of late and Mattie Donnelly's ankle injury is not as serious as was thought at first.

The return of Gormley, who was one of Tyrone's more consistent players last year, could help to prop up a defence that has been leaking too many scores recently.

Conor Clarke has been filling the full-back position lately but Justin McMahon's return to this role would certainly be welcomed with the former perhaps being deployed in bolstering the midfield sector along with the Cavanagh brothers.

The manner in which Kerry scored almost at will in the second half at Killarney clearly alarmed Harte.

His candid admission that this side were lucky to escape with a win against Kildare before conceding that the team's performance against Kerry was the "worst ever" in his watch brought starkly into focus the need for remedial action.

While victory over Westmeath has acted as a soothing balm for now, Harte is aware that only convincing performances against Cork on Sunday week and Dublin on April 6 will fully rekindle the faith and commitment of the Red Hands' huge fan base.

Two points from these games would guarantee Tyrone a semi-final place and could yet offer the very interesting prospect of a re-match with Kerry.

Under the league format, the team that finishes at the top will play the fourth-placed side while the second and third finishers will meet in the other semi-final.

Kerry play Westmeath, who look certain to be relegated, on Sunday week and then meet their great Munster rivals Cork.

The outcome of these matches and Tyrone's displays in their next two games could lead to all sorts of interesting possibilities in terms of the semi-final pairings but for Mickey Harte (pictured) fact rather than speculation dominates his thinking right now as he faces into what is a crucial phase of the season.

"While we were happy to take the win against Westmeath we know that there are tough tests on the horizon but you expect that at this level. When we have hit form in the league, we have been very good but in some games we have not been so good. We are now getting the chance to show what we can do and it's important that we make the most of it," observes Harte.

The influx of experience, the desire on the part of the playing squad as a whole to revive their reputation and the fact that the championship is looming are expected to inject Tyrone with a new vibrancy for the games against Cork and Dublin.

To date in the league, Harte has made judicious use of his bench with players such as Mark Donnelly, Conor McAliskey and Niall McKenna having been brought on at different stages to bolster the team.

He looks certain to again deploy a '20-man game' tactic against Dublin and Cork in order to further assess his resources in advance of the championship meeting with Down.

Belfast Telegraph

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