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Harte is wary of injuries as Tyrone face a gruelling task to reach final

By Declan Bogue

As the only other unbeaten manager in Division One apart from Dublin's Jim Gavin, Mickey Harte and Tyrone will have to surmount an additional obstacle to make it to their first league final since 2013.

This season is the first that the league semi-finals have been abolished. Whereas in previous years relegation-threatened teams heading into the final league game could find themselves catapulted into the semi-finals with a favourable result, this time just the top two will go straight into a decider.

The Red Hands' task is made doubly hard by the fact that they are having to play their last five games in consecutive weeks. Their original fixture with Cavan fell foul of a waterlogged pitch and, after last week's win over Monaghan, the rescheduled clash is the only Allianz Football League game this Sunday when they reconvene at Healy Park (throw-in at 2pm).

Utmost in Harte's mind is delivering results, while keeping a healthy panel. In their first game this season - a Dr McKenna Cup defeat to Cavan -they lost Michael Cassidy and Rory Brennan to injury, while Connor McAliskey's season was ended by a cruciate ligament rupture.

"It's good to be playing football. The only thing is staying injury-free, that's a real bonus," Harte acknowledged.

After the visit of Cavan on Sunday, they face Donegal in Ballybofey six days later in a Saturday night fixture. They then have Mayo visiting Healy Park and the final regulation game is in Killarney against Kerry.

"With the help of God, we can stay injury-free and be able to nurture players through. It's a heavy, competitive schedule of top-class games," said Harte.

"If we can get that balance right where we don't over-tax anybody and we don't pick up injuries, it will be great over the next four weeks to be playing football.

"If the results are good, then you could even have a fifth game to contest after that."

The fifth game he refers to is a potential league final, where Tyrone would be keen to face Dublin again after their drawn encounter in February. That fixture is set for April 9, which, if all goes to Harte's plan, would make it six consecutive weekend games, one of the heaviest loads that has ever been placed on an inter-county side.

Against Monaghan last week, Tyrone delivered a devastating first-half performance, leaving them ahead at the break by 0-9 to 0-2. Shortly after, Monaghan had two players, Dermot Malone and Fintan Kelly, dismissed and while the air went out of the game, the Oriels were able to make life uncomfortable for their hosts.

It took two typically flamboyant points from substitute Sean Cavanagh to rescue Tyrone. The county captain has been named at full-forward against Cavan, his first start of the campaign.

Full points from the remaining home fixtures would go a long way to guaranteeing that league final place, and re-establishing the fear factor at Healy Park.

"You have to make your home ground count," stated Harte.

"Teams should be afraid, to some degree, of coming there for a real tough battle. Sometimes we have the name of not being good in Omagh.

"I don't think that is a fair name, because I think the last team to beat us here in the league was Cork, and they beat us by a point, a dubious point at that and if we had Hawkeye here, it mightn't have been a point.

"That's over two years ago now, so we can't be too bad at home. I think we have a real desire to get our home points this year and if we can get them, we should be safe for the next year."

While Tyrone have been in good form since that initial loss to Cavan - going seven games unbeaten to eventually win the Dr McKenna Cup and going top of the league - the margin for error is fine, insists Harte.

"This is a very tight league and you can't slip up anywhere. If you slip up then you are not going to be in the final," he added.

Meanwhile, Harte has named Sean Cavanagh alongside Mattie Donnelly in an interesting forward line experiment for Sunday's clash.

He said: "There is a big challenge in those games. We can only learn as we go."

TYRONE (v Cavan): N Morgan; P Hampsey, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, Justin McMahon, R Brennan; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; C Meyler, K McGeary, P Harte; D McCurry, S Cavanagh, M Donnelly

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