Tyrone's Mickey Harte in discussions over cup-tied students
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has maintained that his final selections for the Red Hands panel to defend their McKenna Cup will only come after discussions with the highest powers of the Ulster Council over those who might already be selected by their colleges. European Professional Club Rugby is also probing allegations that Delon Armitage, the Top 14 team's full-back, directed offensive language at spectators
It suggests a softening of Harte's attitude towards allowing players to declare for their college. In previous years, he took a strong line and insisted on his players declaring for Tyrone.
However, Harte responded to a query regarding his stance on students, stating: "Actually, I have been talking to Martin McAviney about this, and my understanding was that after the colleges put in their list, we would look at that and see how that fitted in with what our intentions were."
He continued: "As a result of a discussion after that, we would come to some sort of a conclusion. There was no foregone conclusion, we said we were going to discuss it. That discussion has not taken place yet, so I think that anybody making statements ahead of that is being a bit pre-emptive."
Last week, St Mary's manager Paddy Tally, Tyrone's trainer under Harte for their first All-Ireland in 2003, threatened to pull The Ranch out of the McKenna Cup if their playing staff was ransacked by county teams.
Last year, Tally had to make do without team captain Danny McBride, Niall Morgan and Conor Clarke from Tyrone, Peter Carragher and Aidan Forker of Armagh, and the Johnston brothers, Ryan and Jerome, who declared for Down.
Last week, Tally was in bullish form as he declared: "If our players are being pulled, we'll not play in it. We'll make a decision.
"It would be a waste of time. We don't have that many players to start off with, and if we're losing players to the counties, it makes no sense," he said.
"If you're going to bring the colleges in, let them have their players, and enjoy it, play it and develop their teams for the Sigerson Cup.
"But if it goes to that stage, it really would be a waste of time for us."
Harte added: "When Martin McAviney is available again I intend to talk to him and discuss how the college panels fit with our intentions and if there is any room for manoeuvre, there may be on certain occasions, there may not be on others. But that at the minute is not a final decision on our part."
Meanwhile, Harte has dropped the largest hint yet that three-time All-Ireland winner Conor Gormley could be about to retire.
The Carrickmore man, who has also won three All-Stars, lost his regular starting slot last year and although he was introduced in games and had a steadying effect, could not force himself into the starting grid.
Previously, Joe McMahon has talked about the difficulties of committing to another year of county football in 2015. The Omagh man is currently studying in Coleraine and commuting from the family home in Omagh daily, but it appears that Harte has been able to facilitate him.
Asked in the light of the Kilkenny retirements last week of Tommy Walsh, David Herity and JJ Delaney if any more Tyrone players were considering their future, Harte replied: "There are certainly people who have been considering things alright.
"Joe is doing a PGCE this year so there is a lot of work commitment in terms of studying. The Omagh involvement went on so long, so yes, he has to think about it."
He added: "But I would be more optimistic at this stage of Joe being there next year than Conor (Gormley)."
Tyrone meet Armagh in the first game of the McKenna Cup in the Athletic Grounds on January 4.
They are aiming to win their fourth consecutive McKenna Cup, which would equal their own record, set between 2004-2007. Under Harte, they have taken part in an astonishing 11 finals since he took over in 2003.