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Dublin must be decked if Tyrone are to get into title shake-up: Harte


Top teams: Tyrone’s Niall Sludden (left) and Dublin’s Brian Fenton lock horns last year
Top teams: Tyrone’s Niall Sludden (left) and Dublin’s Brian Fenton lock horns last year
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte was provided with rather more food for thought than had been anticipated when his team surprisingly fell to an under-strength Galway side in last Sunday's Allianz League Division One opener at Tuam.

The Red Hands had been expected to surmount this initial challenge with some degree of comfort but when Galway captain Damien Comer drilled the ball into the Red Hands' net with just 16 seconds gone it was just the first nail in the visitors' coffin as they succumbed to a 1-9 to 0-8 defeat.

Since then, Harte has been musing over his selection options but he received a much-needed boost in advance of tomorrow night's mouth-watering tie against All-Ireland champions Dublin at Omagh when he watched Mark Bradley, Lee Brennan, Ronan McNamee and Frank Burns strut their stuff in style as UUJ overcame Sigerson Cup holders St Mary's on Wednesday.

The Tyrone quartet, indeed, underpinned the Jordanstown team's win with Brennan snapping up half-a-dozen points, Bradley pilfering three and McNamee, normally a full-back, also hitting the target.

Harte, conscious that early back-to-back defeats could impact on his team's chances of perhaps figuring in the race for the league title, has already drummed home the message to his side that much more accuracy is required if they are to be a force in the competition.

Dublin, who cruised past Kildare last weekend, will come to Healy Park intent on stepping up a gear. And this actually suits Harte very well even at this early juncture.

"We have to play Dublin at some stage in the league and you are better getting them early in the campaign than later," points out Harte. "We just have to roll up our sleeves now and see can we raise the level and standard of our own game."

It will all boil down to finishing and this is where Harte expects his players to pick up the baton delivered so competently by Brennan, Bradley and McNamee for UUJ on Wednesday.

The trio have unwittingly provided a touch of irony in the build-up to tomorrow's match. In all, they landed 10 points between them in UUJ's colours on Wednesday, a statistic that perhaps brings into even sharper focus Harte's own analysis of his team's finishing last Sunday.

"Our finishing let us down in the first-half in particular. Three scores from 10 attempts is never going to win us many games," he observes.

Now it's up to his players to pick up the gauntlet and deliver a much-needed league victory.

Meanwhile, Moy full-back Tomas McNicholl believes his team can write the final chapter in what he terms "the dream of a lifetime" at Croke Park tomorrow. The defender, who has been in outstanding form during his team's spectacular championship odyssey to date, is convinced that the spirit within the side, their self-belief and the soaring ambition that has accompanied their flight into the All-Ireland club intermediate decider against Michael Glaveys (Roscommon) can help to bring them down the last furlong in style.

And McNicholl concedes that the current mood which prevails within the Tir na nOg squad is in rather sharp contrast to that which was so marked over the course of recent years. "We have known our share of championship setbacks in Tyrone, that's for sure," states McNicholl.

"We have started seasons full of hope but ended up empty-handed. But it has all been so different this year. We just took one match as it came in the Tyrone Championship and we never dared to dream that we might win the county title."

But win it they did and tomorrow Moy will be deserted as not hundreds but thousands of the team's followers descend on Croke Park hoping to witness what could prove a truly historic achievement.

"I know the population of Moy tends to be numbered in hundreds rather than thousands but it seems that people from all parts of the world with a trace of Moy blood in their veins want to be there," smiles McNicholl.

"We are certainly grateful for their support. It proved crucial last weekend when we managed to beat An Ghaeltacht in injury-time but we hope we won't leave it as late although we will take any win we can get. It would be the dream of a lifetime to win."

McNicholl helps to buttress a Moy defence that has been in frugal mood. They conceded eight points to Rostrevor and six to An Ghaeltacht - statistics that please joint manager Gavin McGilly who was part of the St Mary's backroom team at Wednesday's Sigerson Cup clash with UUJ.

"We have shown we can transform defence into attack very quickly and this is one of our strengths. We have to be peraperd for anything," says McGilly.

• RTÉ have announced that Joanne Cantwell will anchor The Sunday Game Live following Michael Lyster's retirement at the end of the 2018 GAA Championship.

It was confirmed earlier this week, that Lyster was leaving the flagship GAA programme after 34 years at the helm.

Former Dublin footballer Cantwell joined RTÉ in 2007 as a reporter on The Sunday Game Live.

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