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Mickey Harte to cast the net wide in hunt for fresh talent for Tyrone

By John Campbell

Published 11/08/2016

New breed: Niall Sludden has settled comfortably into the Tyrone side this year and now manager Mickey Harte is hoping others can follow in those footsteps as he sets his sights on even greater success next year
New breed: Niall Sludden has settled comfortably into the Tyrone side this year and now manager Mickey Harte is hoping others can follow in those footsteps as he sets his sights on even greater success next year

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte will not allow the grass to grow under his feet as he begins to focus on 2017.

The O'Neill County Senior Club Football Championship is due to commence on the week-end of August 27-28 and Harte plans to search far and wide for emerging talent.

Tiernan McCann, Niall Sludden and Ronan O'Neill were among those who graduated to first-choice players this year and now Harte, who saw his men knocked out in the All-Ireland quarter-finals by Mayo last weekend, is preparing to throw down the gauntlet to others to follow in their footsteps.

He is likely to give more players from this year's Under-21 side a chance to impress. Tyrone reached the Ulster U21 final but fell to Monaghan, yet several players in the team including Lee Brennan, David Mulgrew and Mark Kavanagh hinted that they could be ready to step up to the senior area.

Kieran McGeary and Frank Burns were just two of the players who received only very limited game time at senior level this year while other substitutes introduced against Mayo last Saturday - Rory Brennan, Darren McCurry, Mark Bradley, Jonathan Munroe and Padraig McNulty - are expected to intensify their efforts to gain starting berths on a regular basis.

This year a number of Tyrone's talented young players failed to make the 26-strong match-day squads for Championship games but Harte is certain to encourage them to remain on board and fight for their places.

Veteran Joe McMahon played very little football at inter-county level in recent months but may be persuaded to come back for another season should he be fully fit.

Along with his brother Justin, McMahon has given outstanding service to Tyrone but a number of injuries coupled with study commitments have restricted his involvement with the side.

At the outset of this year's Ulster Championship, Harte declared that players' progress could only be properly assessed in the furnace of the flagship provincial competition.

It was a point well made. Tyrone were taken to a replay by Cavan in the Ulster semi-final before overcoming Donegal by two points (0-13 to 0-11) in the decider.

That triumph was followed by last weekend's heart-breaking one-point defeat to Mayo (0-13 to 0-12) when Harte's previous assertion that "fine margins" can define Championship matches came home to roost.

But he nonetheless concedes that he expected his side to reach the All-Ireland final.

"We are a developing and evolving side and maybe it was a bit premature to expect them to have enough quality and experience to win the All-Ireland because it does not happen easily," said Harte.

"At the same time, we still felt we were capable of reaching the final and not getting there just seems to feel like climbing so far and then falling back again. That can be frustrating for everyone."

The Sam Maguire Cup has not rested in Tyrone since 2008 and that is viewed as akin to a mini-famine within a county that enjoyed unparalleled success in the Noughties when three All-Ireland titles were collected.

Last autumn Harte was given a further two-year term by the Tyrone county board and it's certain that a massive push will be launched to capture the big one next year.

It could prove to be Harte's last year in charge, although the most successful manager in Tyrone's history has certainly given no indication that he is even considering leaving his post. Indeed, his zest for his role is clearly evident as he begins to focus strongly on the 2017 campaign.

Harte, of course, has long since assured himself of a place alongside the greatest managers ever to grace the Gaelic football arena such as Mick O'Dwyer, Kevin Heffernan and Sean Boylan who achieved legendary status with Kerry, Dublin and Meath respectively.

Belfast Telegraph

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