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Harte’s lads enjoy dining at Tyrone's top table

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte’s aspirations that his fresh blend of youth and experience might yet spell success have already been fulfilled to some extent.

But the triple All-Ireland winning boss acknowledges that next Saturday’s Power NI Dr McKenna Cup final against Derry will pose a significant examination of his side’s credentials.

Having reiterated that the Red Hands face a “hugely demanding” itinerary in Division Two of the National League, Harte believes that the recapture of the first trophy on offer this season would help to further bolster morale within his much-changed squad.

“There is a cup there to be won and it’s good that we are in there challenging for it. We have to be competitive and I think it’s great that we are now getting five matches in January.

“It is well known that Tyrone do not participate in challenge matches so to be in the running for a trophy at this stage of the year is ideal preparation for the league, I feel,” said Harte.

And he will again look to the fusion of old hands and new blood that has been serving him well since the season blasted into action.

“We have players in there who are very keen to stake their claim for places and we have others who have been around for a while and are still doing the business.

“We obviously have still more who will seek to come in and we will take things as they come,” points out Harte.

His faith in players of contrasting pedigree was richly rewarded in the Power NI McKenna Cup semi-final victory over Derry.

The 30-year-old Martin Penrose was sprung from the bench shortly before half-time and subsequently helped to tip the scales in Tyrone’s favour by making several crucial tackles and launching incisive attacks.

And meantime 19-year-old Ronan O’Neill underlined his immense potential by scoring an impressive 1-4, his second-half goal climaxing one of the best moves of the match.

Both players have elicited fulsome praise from Harte who is clearly encouraged by the cohesion and work-rate that his side is showing.

“Martin Penrose is a very good tackler and has a speed about him that threatens the opposition. He was a serious factor in our win over Derry on Sunday,” states Harte.

O’Neill’s emergence as a forward of rare quality convinces Harte that Tyrone’s renowned finishing skills could be enhanced but he is treading cautiously nonetheless.

“Ronan has the ability to believe in himself and that is important. It was very big of him to hang in during the first-half on Sunday when things were not going his way,” maintains Harte.

“But what he achieved in the second-half of the game tells you about the quality of player that he can become. He is fast and skilful and has lots to offer.”

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