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Tyrone's Shay aims at enhancing McGuigan legacy

By John Campbell

When Tyrone manager Mickey Harte unveils his side tonight to meet Down on Sunday in the Ulster Championship, Shay McGuigan will be paying rapt attention.

It's at the annual Club Tyrone get-together in the impressive £6m Garvaghey complex that Harte will confirm his line-up for his team's biggest game of the year to date and McGuigan is keeping his fingers crossed that he will be accorded his championship debut.

Over a year ago, Ardboe clubman McGuigan was forced to shoulder a massive disappointment when Harte (below) decreed that he was not quite ready for his squad.

But the 23-year-old forward's determination to make it into inter-county football was finally rewarded when Harte named him in his 2014 panel and gave him his debut against Donegal in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup.

Since then the lithe McGuigan has matured into a stylish, confident playmaker whose influence within the Red Hands side in recent months has been pronounced.

But then it's hardly surprising that he brings impressive credentials to the table.

His father is Tyrone legend Frank McGuigan, whose 11 points from play – five with the right foot, five with the left and one with the fist – in the 1984 provincial final defeat of Armagh (0-15 to 1-7) still ranks as one of the outstanding individual scoring feats in the entire history of the championship.

And three of Shay's brothers – Frank jnr, Tommy and Brian – have all garnered Ulster Championship medals with Brian having scaled the heights by complementing his four provincial gongs with three All-Ireland medals (2003, 2005 and 2008).

Tommy's more modest one All-Ireland medal and three Ulster awards have been dictated by injury as much as anything else while Frank jnr claimed his one All-Ireland accolade in 2008.

In contrast, Shay has just a Dr McKenna Cup medal to show for his endeavours to date – and he didn't even get to play in the final against Cavan in February.

"I would like to have been involved in that game but since then Mickey has given me a lot of action and now I would just love to get the chance to make my championship debut," says McGuigan, a self-employed businessman.

"Obviously competition for places is fierce and boys are just chomping at the bit to get facing Down."

He has turned in some particularly fine performances this year, stamping his imprint on the team's strategy and proving an effective link between defence and attack.

Last year, he was in quite spectacular form for his club Ardboe. The side reached the top four in the senior league and only lost out to a last-minute Carrickmore goal in the league decider.

"I think the fact that Ardboe had an extended run last year helped me to show a bit of consistent form and probably kept me on Mickey Harte's radar," explains the quiet-spoken McGuigan.

His cultured passing, sharp vision and ability to motivate others have helped to make him a key cog in the side and he still manages to pilfer scores.

But it's his penchant for orchestrating Tyrone's attacking strategy, in much the same way that his brother Brian did for a decade prior to his retirement, that marks him down as a quality player.

Even when the Red Hands overcame Armagh by 5-16 to 0-7 in the McKenna Cup, McGuigan scored just one point yet he was the most authoritative player on the park. It was much the same against Westmeath in the league – a point from play but a master-class in fashioning cohesive team play.

Not surprisingly, his family will be right behind him should he make the cut for Sunday's game or be introduced from the bench.

"Naturally, football is the big topic in the house," smiles McGuigan. "Indeed, it's the only topic you would think. My father and brothers have given me a lot to live up to but I would love to get the chance to prove myself on the championship stage."

To do that he will have to fend off the challenge of a battery of talented players including Darren McCurry, Mattie Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, Kyle Coney, Ronan O'Neill, Emmet McKenna, Connor McAliskey, P J Lavery, Patrick McNeice and Plunkett Kane.

"There is a lot of quality in the squad and everyone obviously wants to be involved in the championship.

"There was maybe disappointment that we did not reach the semi-finals of the league but we have been working hard in training and we feel we are ready for Down," states McGuigan.

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