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Mickey Harte wants Tyrone stars to step up to the mark

By Declan Bogue

Published 08/11/2016

It is hoped that the rule change will reward the skill of high fielding
It is hoped that the rule change will reward the skill of high fielding

The new Australian Rules-style 'mark' that is to be introduced into Gaelic football in January will be trialled by county teams for the first time in Ulster.

Crossmaglen Rangers host the revived O'Fiaich Cup in December, and it's understood they are awaiting approval from Croke Park over the implementation of the new rule, which has already been in operation for University competitions.

That means that title holders Tyrone, along with other counties that are geographically in the archdiocese of Armagh - Derry, Armagh and Louth - will be the first inter-county sides to try out the latest version of a 'mark', which grants the catcher of a kick-out the option to play on or a free play, which cannot be challenged.

Keen O'Fiaich Cup observers will recall that it featured the first ever black card to be awarded in Gaelic football, when Derry's Declan Mullan was penalised in the 50th minute against Louth in December 2013.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is happy to have the opportunity to get to grips with the new rule. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "It's good to have a go at any of these things. You are going to have to familiarise yourself with them come the new season of 2017.

"Yes, it would be good to get a game or two with those new rules in place. It would give us some competitive football as well and that would all be good. I hope it does happen."

Because of the staggered return to full training for counties after their 2016 exploits, Tyrone are only eligible to come back collectively in the second weekend of December, which will coincide with the opening weekend of the winter competition.

"All of us who are eligible for it would be available, technically and officially in early December. There is a window there to put it in for the first few weeks in December," explained Harte.

Last week Tyrone held their Ulster medal presentation at a ceremony in Cookstown, and they have held their first meeting aimed at gearing up for the 2017 season, when they plan to go further than an All-Ireland quarter-final.

In the meantime, some players have been called into the panel to try out during the O'Fiaich Cup campaign. Last year Ronan O'Neill and Richie Donnelly established themselves in the starting team after strong performances in the final against Louth, allowing them to build throughout the Dr McKenna Cup and National League, rubber-stamping their places for the Championship.

The players called up include Michael Cassidy (Ardboe), Harry Loughran (Moy), Cahir McCullagh (Greencastle), Declan McClure (Clonoe), Ruairi Mullan (Cookstown) and Ronan McHugh (Aghyaran).

Mullan and Cassidy were both part of Feargal Logan's Under-21 panel that won the All-Ireland in 2015, and they will hook up with no fewer than nine of that panel who are currently in the senior set-up, such as Cathal McShane, Conor Meyler and Padraig Hampsey.

McCullagh was an attacking partner of Ronan O'Neill on the 2010 minor team that won All-Ireland honours and currently sits second in the scoring list in Division One of the county leagues.

Clonoe's McClure is the son of legendary former midfielder Harry, who played in the 1986 All-Ireland final. He showed up well in Clonoe's five Championship games this summer before losing to Coalisland in the semi-final replay.

Loughran has been turning in impressive displays for his club Moy, while McHugh recently finished as top scorer in Division Two within Tyrone for the second year running.

Harte has also been boosted by the news that Sean Cavanagh is back for another year - 2017 will be his 16th season of inter-county football and, apart from 2002 under Art McRory and Eugene McKenna, he will have spent his entire career under Harte.

Referring to his sending-off against Mayo, Cavanagh said at the medal presentation: "It was hard to walk away in the circumstances that prevailed in Croke Park. I love playing Gaelic football, I love playing the game. If I can get another year out of it, so be it."

Cavanagh's target is to come back and win an All-Ireland, which would be his and Tyrone's fourth.

"Within our squad we thought we had more than enough to go to a final and maybe win it. That's what hurt us the most," he revealed.

"I have been training with a lot of squads and this year I felt this was the strongest squad we have ever had."

Belfast Telegraph

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