Harte poser offers a happy headache
It's quite some time since Tyrone manager Mickey Harte found himself spoiled for choice in terms of defensive options — and that’s one of the reasons why his side slid into Division Two of the National Football League.
Yet as he approaches Saturday’s Ulster football championship semi-final against Down he is confronted by a rearguard selection poser that is much different to those which have exercised his mind over recent months.
Even though Ciaran Gourley and Damian McCaul are still recovering from long-term injuries, Harte is happy to have a fully recovered Conor Gormley and a willing Sean O’Neill very much in the frame for the showdown with James McCartan’s side.
Gormley, who has been the central pillar of the Tyrone defence for several years now, has been out of the picture because of ankle trouble and his return should strengthen the team’s chances of making it into the final against either Monaghan or Fermanagh.
And O’Neill — second-half sub in the win over Antrim — has been knocking loudly on the door for some time and is likely to get some more game time against the Mournemen.
The anticipated return of Gormley could see Ryan McMenamin move from centre-half-back, where he featured against Antrim, to his more familiar role at right-full-back with Martin Swift making way.
Harte, aware of Down’s pace, skill in attack, is particularly anxious that his defensive strategy proves an effective barrier to the Mourne side’s ambitions in a match which could be an epic.
“Obviously it’s good to have someone of the calibre of Conor Gormley available again. While we must be patient in awaiting the return of Ciaran Gourley and Damien McCaul, we now have maybe one or two more options at our disposal.
“We will certainly need these as Down have shown they are a very attack-minded side this year and proved in extra-time against Donegal that they are imbued with plenty of energy and stamina,” points out Harte.
In the ongoing absence of Aidan Cassidy from midfield the Tyrone manager is likely, once again, to place his faith in the Kevin Hughes-Colm Cavanagh partnership against Down.
“The injury that Aidan received could hardly have come at a worse time but the player himself is still very determined to have some input into our season. Obviously this will depend on his rate of rehabilitation and the length of our stay in the championship overall. It would be our hope that he makes a full recovery quickly and that we are still playing championship football when he reaches this point,” says Harte.
Joe McMahon is expected to again fulfil a roving commission against Down with Stephen O’Neill and Owen Mulligan certain to operate as a two-man full-forward line as the Ulster champions bid to unhinge their opponents’ sweeper mechanism.