Tyrone have yet to kick a ball in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup — but don’t rule out the possibility of the side making a big impact in the competition.
It has become clear that the players now want to offer their manager Mickey Harte a message of encouragement for the future following the most traumatic period in the county’s history.
The tragic death of Mickey’s daughter Michaela McAreavey while on honeymoon in Mauritius and the harrowing scenes at her funeral on Monday will remain indelibly imprinted in the memory of everyone for a long time to come.
Now, as people strive to focus on the future, the feeling is growing that the Tyrone side who will get their 2011 campaign up and running when they meet Donegal on Sunday at Healy Park can point the way ahead.
Football has been all but forgotten about as grief enveloped the county but last night county chairman Ciaran McLaughlin indicated that the players themselves are keen to set an example for everyone.
“We are very fortunate to have such a closely-bonded group of players — they are very much like a family,” says McLaughlin.
“There is no better family man than Mickey Harte himself of course and I think you will see a togetherness on Sunday that will be very impressive.”
Ryan McMenamin, Brian McGuigan, Conor Gormley, Sean Cavanagh, Martin Penrose and Stephen O’Neill are set to spearhead Tyrone’s bid to thwart Donegal’s efforts to retain their trophy in a match that will obviously be played out against an emotional background with Mickey Harte himself likely to be present.
Tony Donnelly, the Red Hands assistant boss, is expected to call the shots on the touchline while new Donegal manager Jim McGuinness will be looking for impressive performances from players like Leo McLoone, Adrian Hanlon and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy who look as if they might emerge as key men this term.
And as Tyrone take their first tentative step into action since their All Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin last August, Down manager James McCartan will send his side out against St Mary’s at Pairc Esler, Newry tomorrow night rather more anxious about ascertaining his strength in depth than in pursuing early-season silverware.
Down lost to Armagh last weekend and drew with Antrim on Wednesday — and McCartan had difficulty in taking positives from the latter game.
“We were scratching our heads afterwards trying to work out what went wrong.
“We were 9-3 up at half-time, for goodness sake,” sighed McCartan.
Danny Hughes, Aidan Carr, Peter Fitzpatrick, Kevin McKernan and Martin Clarke are all expected to be in the Down side again for tomorrow’s tie while Ronan Murtagh and Conor Poland should get the chance to continue their quest for regular places in the starting line-up.