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Dr McKenna Cup: Tyrone’s focus now on trophy quest

By John Campbell

Tyrone may have made a belated start to 2011 - but don’t rule out the possibility of them winning the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup.

Already firmly installed as favourites to beat Fermanagh tomorrow and odds-on to overcome UUJ on Saturday in their two remaining scheduled matches in Section A, the Red Hands are poised to mount a strong challenge for the trophy now that optimism is beginning to permeate their ranks following the period of mourning in the aftermath of the tragic death of Michaela McAreavey, daughter of team manager Mickey Harte.

While Tyrone fans rally round their side, assistant manager Tony Donnelly has pleaded for “time and patience” as the squad prepare for a particularly busy spell.

“We have two games within four days and these will be our sole focus,” said Donnelly.

“Obviously our game against Donegal last Sunday was played out against a very strong emotional background, but we would hope to go forward from here.

“Michaela McAreavey left a great legacy of hope and the players feel they want to build on this, but they will need time and patience to get into their stride.

“It is worth remembering that Sunday’s game against Donegal was our first competitive outing since we played Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-finals last August.”

Stephen O’Neill and Conor Gormley, who missed Sunday’s game, could come into the reckoning for places tomorrow night, but Colm Cavanagh will be an absentee having incurred a straight red card against Donegal.

Tyrone showed in that game the extent of their strength in depth when they were able to introduce substitutes of the calibre of Kevin Hughes and Enda McGinley to help them overcome Jim McGuinness’ side.

And while the Red Hands are prepared to look no further than this week’s busy itinerary, there is the strong possibility that they could yet meet their deadly Ulster rivals Armagh in the second semi-final — Derry are, of course, due to meet Antrim in the first semi-final on Saturday night.

With the O’Neill County expected to come out on top of Section A, Armagh, who have beaten Down and lost to Antrim, but who are in pole position to get the better of struggling St Mary’s tomorrow night, could conceivably finish as the best-placed fourth side.

Cavan, who play Monaghan tomorrow night and Donegal, who face Fermanagh on Saturday night, are also jostling for this position.

Ulster Council spokesman Oliver Galligan last night suggested that the competition is already building up to an interesting climax despite the plethora of postponed matches to date.

“We would hope to complete our amended time-table on schedule and there is certainly the prospect of some very tasty matches on the horizon,” said Galligan.

“Obviously we are in the lap of the gods in relation to the weather, but we must hope for the best in that regard.”

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