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Rising stars give Tyrone manager a welcome headache

 

By John Campbell

When the majority of county team bosses suddenly find themselves shorn of some of their more distinguished competitors for Championship duty in particular, their shared tendency is to get their retaliation in first.

This, of course, often - but not always - limits their culpability should their team flounder.

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte is very much the exception to this dubious mantra. Rather than bemoan his perceived misfortune, Harte prefers to grasp any selection nettle he encounters with unfettered enthusiasm.

Thus while the outside world appeared to be lamenting the fact that Cathal McCarron, Justin McMahon and Jonathan Munroe would not be available for last Sunday's Ulster Championship clash with Derry, Harte took the bull by the horns and thrust some of his aspiring young guns into the front line of battle.

The upshot is that triple All-Ireland winning boss Harte is virtually awash with selection options as he now lays his plans for the mouth-watering confrontation with born-again Donegal on June 18.

In the genteel second-half cruise against outclassed Derry, Darren McCurry bounced on from the bench and potted three of the sweetest points you will see in the current Championship, Lee Brennan served notice that he is first-choice material and Frank Burns showed that there is always room for bludgeoning effort until he blotted his copybook with a black card.

Add to this the fact that Padraig Hampsey slotted in seamlessly at left-full-back, Rory Brennan was a workaholic while wearing the No.6 shirt and Conall McCann marked his debut by taking delivery of the coveted man of the match accolade, and it can be quickly seen that Harte's selection box is particularly appetising.

You get the distinct impression that if half-a-dozen of his players were to abandon ship this week, Harte would not be summoning the lifeguards - rather he would merely dig a little deeper into his treasure trove of assets.

If Donegal's performance against Antrim coming as it did on the heels of their buoyant league campaign saw them shunted into the favourites' role for the provincial crown, then Tyrone's display against an admittedly ragged Derry offered the prospect that consecutive titles are well within their gambit.

Yet caution is the watchword for Harte going forward.

"The fact that we were able to give players a taste of Ulster Championship football for the first time and get them up to the speed of what is required at this level is all good experience for these men," insists Harte.

"That's what a good squad is about."

The choice of Conall McCann in particular was seen as a gamble, but Harte briskly knocks any such notion on the head.

"That's why we work hard at training and why we keep a close eye on players right throughout the season," he stresses. "In the build-up to games you hope that you will notice people who are in form and who are really going to put their hand up for selection.

"Conall has been doing that at training and the quality of his display against Derry was no surprise to us."

McCann's burst of form could not be more timely as Donegal will parade two of the most exciting young midfield players in the country in Jason McGee and Ciaran Thompson. Their aerial ability, work-rate and scoring power will be a central weapon against the Red Hands - a fact of which Harte is only too well aware.

"Donegal went close to getting a place in the league final, they have a lot of fine young talent coming through and they have the benefit of that good Championship win over Antrim under their belts already," states Harte.

"Why wouldn't they be up for meeting us?"

Belfast Telegraph

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