Harte's Tyrone rotation policy sure to face stern examination
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte needs no reminding that his players' versatility will face the acid test against Cork in Sunday's crucial Allianz League Division One blockbuster at Pairc Ui Rinn.
Harte may have introduced new faces against Kerry and then made seven changes for the home clash with Westmeath but questions that still hover over the roles which some members of his line-up are currently asked to fulfil must be answered in positive vein this weekend if the Red Hands are to stay in the hunt for the title.
Yet for all this, very few teams can offer the level of flexibility that Harte's squad can usually deliver as and when the occasion demands.
During the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup and in the opening phase of the league, Mattie Donnelly was being hailed as a full-forward of real quality, Peter Harte was a driving force at centre-half-back and Ciaran McGinley appeared to have bedded down as a wing-back of considerable talent.
But in the win over Westmeath on Sunday week last Donnelly was deployed at centre-half-back, Harte occupied the right-half-forward position and McGinley moved up into the attack to show that he was not out of place at wing-forward.
Throw in the fact that Conor Clarke can play with equal facility at full-back or midfield, Ronan O'Neill can be used as a playmaker or as a lethal inside forward and Mark Donnelly, proving the most capable of substitutes of late, is at home either at full-forward or in the half-forward division and it can be clearly seen that manager Harte still possesses quite an arsenal of talent.
And he will surely need it come the weekend. Cork endured their first mishap in the league when they lost to Mayo in their last outing, a result that occasioned disappointment and even resentment with Brian Cuthbert's squad.
Now with seasoned duo Eoin Cadogan and Aidan Walsh fully committed to sharing in what they hope will prove Tyrone's downfall rather than participating in Allianz Hurling League quarter-final action against Tipperary, Cuthbert's hand is suitably strengthened for what he views as a stern examination of his team's overall capabilities.
He has switched Michael Shields to centre-half-back with former Antrim ace James Loughrey alongside him, named Fintan Goold and Aidan Walsh at midfield and included John Hayes, Paul Kerrigan and Brian Hurley in a fearsome-looking attack.
Despite that defeat against Mayo, Cork still top the table with eight points from five games with Tyrone and Derry each bracketed on seven points.
Manager Harte (pictured) acknowledges that his side cannot afford to drop any more points as they focus on a semi-final place.
"Obviously the first priority of teams is to protect their status in Division One and then when that has been achieved and you are in a better place you can start to focus on being in the hunt for the title," points out Harte.
"Cork have been setting the pace and even though they lost to Mayo they are still regarded as the team to beat. Getting into the semi-finals gives teams the chance of at least one more highly competitive match in advance of the championship and that's something we would welcome."
Tyrone PRO Eunan Lindsay believes that the players' willingness to fulfil more than one role within the side could prove a decisive factor in taking the team into the last four in the title race.
"We clearly have players who are at home in more than one position and this is one of our strengths. Obviously it is difficult for Mickey to accommodate everyone in the manner they would like so this element of versatility serves us well," stresses Lindsay.
"Cork have been the form team in the league and we know they will be very keen to show that their loss to Mayo was only a temporary blip.
"There is obviously strong competition for places within their side and that will sharpen their combative edge even further, I feel. Like us, they have versatile players with Fintan Goold, normally a forward, now at midfield and Michael Shields, who usually plays at full-back, lining out at centre-half-back so they can match us in this respect.
"They are never easy to counter, either, when they are playing at home but this match will surely let us know where we are at."
Cork: D Hanrahan; E Cadogan, Tom Clancy, N Galvin; Tomas Clancy, M Shields, J Loughrey; A Walsh, F Goold; J O'Rourke, P Kerrigan, M Collins; D Goulding, B Hurley, J Hayes.