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Mickey Harte delight as Cassidy eyes his return for Tyrone

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is still continuing his one-on-one meetings with players in preparation for the 2011 campaign but although the expectation is that at least two familiar faces may be missing from the squad, the return of a fully-fit Aidan Cassidy is considered a major bonus.

The strapping Augher clubman sustained a badly dislocated ankle during a club game before the start of the Ulster senior football championship and has not played for his county since then.

During the early part of this year Cassidy proved to be one of Tyrone’s most consistent players, bedding down well in midfield alongside Kevin Hughes and turning in a man of the match performance against Monaghan in the National League.

In fact, Cassidy missed almost half of Tyrone’s league campaign because of the injury and many Red Hands fans believe that his absence was a factor in their team’s demotion to Division Two.

Cassidy’s broken ankle was not his first acquaintance with serious injury — he had previously sustained serious knee cartilage damage that had also disrupted his county career.

But his return now to full fitness has helped to spark optimism that Tyrone, who will open their Dr McKenna Cup programme against Donegal at Healy Park, Omagh on January 9, will generate early momentum that might carry through to the National League.

It would appear that Red Hands boss Harte will bring on board even more of the players who helped Tyrone to win the All Ireland Minor title two years ago. This year Peter Harte from that team made a big impression at senior championship level when he was drafted in at wing-forward.

Tyrone chairman Ciaran McLaughlin said: “It’s certainly very encouraging that we have youthful talent coming through but we will see what happens in this respect in terms of the senior panel.”

The full McKenna Cup programme is: Jan 8 (7.00) Section B: QUB v Cavan (at Cavan); Section C: St Mary’s v Down (Newry). Jan 9 (2.00) Section A: UUJ V Fermanagh (Enniskillen), Tyrone v Donegal (Omagh). Section B: Derry v Monaghan (Celtic Park). Section C: Armagh v Antrim (Athletic Grounds).

Jan 15 (7.00): Section B: Cavan v Derry (Cavan). Section C: Down v Armagh (Newry), Antrim v St Mary’s (Casement Park). Jan 16 (2.00): Section A: Fermanagh v Tyrone (Enniskillen); Donegal v UUJ (Ballybofey). Section B: Monaghan v QUB (Clones).

Jan 19 (7.30): Section A: UUJ v Tyrone (Omagh), Donegal v Fermanagh (Ballybofey 8.00). Section B: Monaghan v Cavan (Inniskeen), Derry v QUB (Celtic Park). Section C: Antrim v Down (Casement Park), Armagh v St Mary’s (Athletic Grounds).

Jan 22/23: Semi-Finals: winners Section C v winners Section B; Section A winners v Best-placed second team.

Jan 29: Final.

Belfast Telegraph