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Problems of the best kind for top GAA bosses

By John Campbell

With less than two weeks gone in the Ulster GAA season Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and his Down counterpart James McCartan find themselves sharing a not altogether unpleasant problem — just who do they axe from their respective squads for the National Football League?

In their three matches to date in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup the Red Hands have scored a whopping 6-54 and underlined that they possess rich reserves of talent capable of taking them much further than the semi-finals of this particular competition in which they will meet neighbours Fermanagh tomorrow night at Healy Park, Omagh.

For their part, Down have totted up a more modest 2-51 in booking their ‘semi’ engagement with holders Donegal at Brewster Park, Enniskillen also tomorrow night.

The common denominator in the early-season surge by both Tyrone and Down is the sparkling form of a platoon of fresh faces introduced by both Harte and McCartan — form, indeed, which renders the task of trimming their squads rather more difficult than had been anticipated.

With typical candour, Harte says: “The way some of the new men have been playing is actually giving me more problems than I had anticipated but I won’t complain too much. It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that we have players due to come back to us from university sides and others from injury so we have a lot of factors to take on board.”

And he adds: “I suppose I would have to say at this point in time that I’m going to have to make some very difficult selection calls, that’s about the height of it.”

The form of Matthew Donnelly, Peter Harte, Niall McKenna, Ronan McNabb and Mark Donnelly in particular is such that Harte will perhaps encounter difficulty in accommodating all of them in his National League squad.

And Down boss McCartan concedes that he finds himself in a similar dilemma as he prepares to take on a Donegal side tomorrow night which held Tyrone to a draw on Wednesday last in one of the best matches of the year to date in the McKenna Cup.

“Our squad is top-heavy at the moment and we will have to trim back but that is certainly not going to be easy,” he said.

The superb form shown by Martin Clarke so far, the emergence of Paul Greenan and Kevin Duffin and the potential displayed by Peter Fitzpatrick offer considerable encouragement to McCartan as he plots the way forward for a county that has suffered considerable frustration in a championship context in recent years.

“At the moment our focus is on Donegal tomorrow,” he added.

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