Tyrone ready to fire
The prospect of entering a major final without as many as three key forwards would be sufficient to persuade most managers that they might be pursuing a lost cause.
But then in many respects Tyrone’s Mickey Harte tends to stand apart from his managerial colleagues in terms of success, attitude and longevity.
The non-availability of the free-scoring Kyle Coney and grave ongoing doubts surrounding the fitness of trusted duo Martin Penrose and Joe McMahon for Sunday’s alluring Allianz League Division Two final against Kildare have inculcated disappointment but no hint of panic within the ranks of the Red Hands — and with very good reason too.
Harte’s long-held demand that versatility should figure highly on a player’s CV has been answered in such emphatic fashion this term that a possible diminution in forward resources for the Headquarters showdown with Kieran McGeeney’s ambitious outfit will receive scant mention in the build-up to the contest.
What will be illuminated though is the 7-13 that the Tyrone half-back line has recorded in the league to date.
Cathal McCarron (pictured), Peter Harte and Damien McCaul between them have produced a rich harvest of scores from play and frees that is the envy of most half-forward lines and even though McCaul has given way to the more experienced Ryan McMenamin at left-half-back for the last two games, manager Harte believes this unit within his defence can again set the attacking tone on Sunday.
“Obviously you would like to have everyone on board for a match of this importance, but we are fortunate in that we have been benefiting from having a spread of scorers within the team.
“I have always maintained that we should be able to defend from one to fifteen and attack from one to fifteen,” maintains Harte.
Peter Harte’s clinical marksmanship from penalties and frees has underlined the half-back line’s massive contribution to the side’s arrival in Sunday’s final while McCarron has morphed into a dynamic wing-back after a spell in the full-back line and McCaul’s career has been revitalised following a depressing sequence of injuries.
“We are fortunate that these three players have been performing particularly well and now that Conor Gormley and Ryan McMenamin are back we have added experience to consider for this sector,” muses Harte.
Midfield duo Colm Cavanagh and Michael Murphy have also been on the mark in the league campaign, thus further bolstering Tyrone’s scoring outlets.
Yet for all the undoubted scoring power contained in their half-back and midfield areas, Tyrone will still look to three of the country’s greatest forwards — Stephen O’Neill, Owen Mulligan and Sean Cavanagh — to provide the main scoring thrust against Kildare.
Cavanagh, like Joe McMahon, is versatility personified. Whether it be at midfield, wing-forward or full-forward it is unknown for him to perform at anything approaching below-par.
And when Tyrone last won the All-Ireland title in 2008, McMahon fulfiled the role of a roving wing-forward in the semi-final win over Wexford before moving to right-full-back to completely nullify the threat of Kerry’s Tommy Walsh in the final.
They may have their injury concerns, but Tyrone will enter the Division Two decider armed with the most impressive statistic to emerge in any code for some considerable time.
In the past four months, Tyrone have lost only one competitive game they have played at minor, under-21 or senior level.
Mickey Harte’s team are unbeaten in 12 outings, the minor side have just booked their place in the Ulster League final against Derry and the under-21 team, under the baton of Raymond Munroe, reached the Ulster final only to fall to Cavan.
Kildare, too, have felt the full force of Tyrone’s powers in the last two meetings between the sides.
In last year’s league encounter the Red Hands strolled to a comfortable 0-13 to 0-5 win and when they renewed their rivalry in the opening match of the current competition the O’Neill county again came out on top by 2-11 to |0-12.
But Mickey Harte believes that, just like investing in the Stock Market, past performance are no guarantee of future gains.
“Kildare have shown themselves to be a very fit, athletic side who play fast, attacking football and they possess a strong work ethic,” he stressed.
“They are well accustomed to Croke Park and they have been threatening to make a breakthrough for a number of years now.
“This is a great opportunity to play a major competitive match at Croke Park in advance of the Ulster championship and we are certainly looking forward to it.”