The positives are slowly but surely beginning to mount for Tyrone as manager Mickey Harte focuses on tonight’s Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup clash against Fermanagh in Enniskillen.
With triple All-Ireland winning forward Owen Mulligan expected back from a safari to Australia next week, Trillick clubman Matthew Donnelly having been named Man-of-the-Match when UUJ drew with Fermanagh at the weekend and Niall McKenna showing superb form in midfield for Queen’s, Harte’s selection options should be enhanced.
But in tandem with his assistant Tony Donnelly, Harte is still prepared to lean for the most part on experience as he targets a McKenna Cup semi-final place.
Tyrone’s 1-13 to 0-13 win over Donegal on Sunday — the spread of scorers in particular within the side impressed the management — has fuelled the belief that the team can become even better.
And in making wholesale changes to their side for tonight’s game, the Red Hands management have flashed an early-season message that competition for starting berths is even hotter than some people might think.
Pascal McConnell, PJ Quinn, Damien McCaul, Conor Gormley, Stephen McNally, Kevin Hughes, Paddy McNeice and Stephen O’Neill are all drafted in as the management seeks to keep everyone on their toes.
Harte, on record in the past as saying that he likes to win every game in which Tyrone are involved, has already indicated that a place in the McKenna Cup semi-finals is his short-term goal although that opening National League match against Derry on Saturday week in Celtic Park is very much on the radar.
“We are happy to be playing football again and we have a number of players who are due to come back to the squad. We would want to be as strong as we can for the league,” says Harte.
But while the Red Hands boss has cause for optimism, his Fermanagh counterpart John O’Neill will approach tonight’s tie with a considerable degree of apprehension.
It took a late Hugh Brady point to help gain the Ernesiders a draw against UUJ at the weekend and O’Neill acknowledges that a very big step-up is required if Tyrone are to be overcome tonight.
“We went six points down in the second-half to UUJ but I thought that my boys showed a lot of character to come back. Even when we went a point down again in injury time we did not panic. We showed composure to get the draw. But we know that it will take a much bigger effort to get something from tonight’s game,” says O’Neill.
James Sherry, Barry Owens and Tommy McElroy are among those who help provide a ration of experience in the Fermanagh side but manager O’Neill may have to exercise more patience before he can come up with a settled blend.
TYRONE: P McConnell; PJ Quinn, C McCarron, D McCaul; D Harte, C Gormley, S McNally; K Hughes, S Cavanagh; M Penrose, B McGuigan, E McGinley; P McNeice, S O’Neill, C Girvan.