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Harte relies on blend of youth and experience to produce desired result

By John Campbell

The Ulster Championship is an unforgiving arena but Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has no hesitation in giving a vote of confidence to comparative rookies tomorrow in his bid to heap further agony in the competition on Down.

It would have taken an extremely knowledgeable pundit – or someone with inside information – to permutate the side which Harte has unveiled for the Red Hands' biggest game of the year to date.

Never the easiest to second-guess at the best of times, Harte has constructed a side that is an amalgam of enterprising youth and a slice of experience.

It's not that his options were limited, either – it's just that he believes his line-up is best suited to deal with the challenge which James McCartan's team will offer.

Barry Tierney and Tiarnan McCann must have ascended onto cloud nine when their names were called out, the bonus of two debutants in his defence clearly giving an insight to Harte's willingness to take a gamble.

His brash stroke is all the more intriguing when it is considered that the Tyrone rearguard has been under fire lately because of its penchant for conceding goals in particular.

A James O'Donoghue hat-trick for Kerry in a lop-sided win at Killarney appears to have hastened the departure of one member of the defence at least while the two goals which Dublin pirated in the opening 70 seconds of the league encounter at Omagh gave a further insight into Tyrone's fragile resistance in the face of incisive attacks from the opposition.

Harte himself perhaps best encapsulates what is viewed as the real test facing his side tomorrow when he says: "For sure, we have to tighten up when it comes to conceding goals.

"I feel that if we can remedy this then we are capable of putting more points on the board than whoever our opponents might be."

This is no idle boast, merely a statement of fact. If the new-look midfield pairing of Colm Cavanagh and Conor Clarke in particular can move the ball quickly into the full-forward line, then Harte has every cause for optimism that scores will ensue.

Niall McKenna, reportedly 'flying' in training lately, is the ideal target man – tall, loose limbed and extremely agile in the air.

With Kyle Coney and Darren McCurry capable of bernefitting from his fielding and knock-downs, the potential for Tyrone to steal a march on James McCartan's side is there.

But while the O'Neill county undoubtedly possess ammunition up front, their defence will come in for a stiff test.

The full-back line in particular of Aidan McCrory, Danny McBride and Barry Tierney can expect to be pushed to the pin of their collar by Donal O'Hare, Niall Madine and Benny Coulter.

If Down pursue a route one policy which is very likely, then Coulter not only has the athleticism to gain first-phase possession but he also has the craft to win frees – hardly surprising given his 12-year tenure at the coal face.

There is the distinct possibility that some Tyrone players will not necessarily fulfil the roles that the numbers on their backs would suggest.

Harte may even play a sweeper while either Sean Cavanagh or Niall McKenna could be detailed to buttress the midfield.

The manager's tactical take will certainly come under the microscope tomorrow – but you can be sure that he won't be in the least fazed by this.

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