Mickey Harte keeping faith with Tyrone's old guard
Published 04/04/2014 | 02:31
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has been able to wheel out his heavy artillery at what he sees as a crucial stage of the season.
When the Red Hands looked to be in danger of succumbing to Cork last weekend, veterans Conor Gormley and Martin Penrose were pitched into the fray from the bench and succeeded in steadying a lilting ship.
Having been in grave danger of losing the game, Tyrone eventually garnered a league point for their endeavours – a point that Harte views as crucial in terms of Sunday's alluring clash with All-Ireland champions Dublin at Healy Park, Omagh.
And he is convinced that his senior citizens can play a big part in helping the side to reach the semi-finals.
"Normally the eight points which we now have would prove sufficient to get us into the play-offs, but it is an indication of just how tight things are at the top that it will take more this year," says Harte.
"Maybe that's not a bad thing. If we can beat Dublin, it means we will get at least one more competitive match in the league and that will prove very good preparation for the Ulster championship."
The Dubs are tucked in behind Tyrone on the table with seven points and with pacesetters Cork and Derry meeting Kerry and Mayo respectively on Sunday a fascinating climax to the league programme is in prospect.
"I know that various permutations are being done, but the fact of the matter is that we want to beat Dublin," said Harte,
"That's the only way we can make sure of a semi-final place. Obviously there will be a big crowd in Omagh and we are very anxious to give our supporters something to cheer about."
Penrose and Gormley, along with Justin McMahon, look set to get more game time against Jim Gavin's side as Harte methodically plots his Championship line-up.
He still harbours concerns about his defence which has leaked some unusually high scores in the league yet on the other hand he can derive considerable satisfaction from the form of Kyle Coney and Darren McCurry in his attack.
Coney scored nine points in a man-of-the-match performance against Cork, while McCurry contributed four.
A lengthy period spent in the shadows because of injury meant that Ardboe clubman Coney took some time to regain his feet at inter-county level.
He is back to his scintillating best right now and Harte is delighted not only with his form, but his attitude.
Coney, never one to mince his words, lays it on the line as Tyrone prepare for what is their most important assignment of the year to date.
"Our preparations for Sunday are going well. We work with each other in training, we know where we are going in terms of tactics, what runs to make," said Coney.
"Our players are all quality passers of the ball and if we get it in there, we'll hopefully do the business.
"It doesn't matter to me who puts the ball over the bar, as long as I stay injury-free. That's the main thing."
Coney's approach is mirrored by veteran defender Gormley who has wielded considerable influence within the side for over a decade.
"It's the team ethic that counts. We are very united in our desire to make it into the closing stages of the league and this game against Dublin is coming at just the right time for us," he added.
"It will be a big test but we are ready for it. These are the matches you want to be involved in."