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Cavanagh back to fire up young guns as Tyrone bid for seventh successive McKenna Cup crown

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has decided to send a fusion of youth and experience into tomorrow night's Dr McKenna Cup final against Donegal at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh, but it's the return of All Star midfield ace Colm Cavanagh that will spark hopes of a seventh successive triumph in the competition.

And while Cavanagh's imposing presence is expected to underpin the Red Hands' drive to extend their McKenna Cup dominance, the fact that he has been paired with newcomer Ben McDonnell lends an element of intrigue and added anticipation to the contest.

Throw in the fact that Harte has also opted to give the nod to Brendan Burns, Michael Cassidy, Ronan McHugh and Harry Loughran and it can be clearly deduced that he is placing his faith on them to help deliver the silverware.

If the spotlight will to a large extent fall on the new kids on the block, then Cavanagh will not be the only senior citizen on duty to offer them a helping hand.

Aidan McCrory and Ronan McNabb have been round the block a few times for the O'Neill county, Cathal McCarron continues to impress in defence and Darren McCurry gets another chance to unleash his devastating finishing skills as does the wily Ronan O'Neill.

Four Tyrone players - Mark Bradley, Ronan McNamee and the Brennan brothers Lee and Rory - played on the UUJ team that lost to UCD in the Sigerson Cup semi-final after extra-time on Wednesday night but none will feature in tomorrow night's starting line-up.

That was a particularly punishing match and it is perhaps no surprise that Harte has not included any of them.

The Tyrone boss is confident, though, that his interesting line-up can rise to the occasion once again in the delayed decider.

"It would not be fair to ask players to give of their best right through January, February and right through to March without some kind of a break. So I suppose it is a great time for players who have not had a lot of game-time up to now, to get their chance," points out Harte.

The Red Hands boss is aware that Donegal have lost the three league games they have played to date, but believes that their manager Declan Bonner is on the right track in terms of his team re-building operation.

Donegal's 2012 All-Ireland winning captain Michael Murphy went in as a substitute against Dublin in the league last Saturday, and may get more game-time tomorrow night, but he is only one of a handful of experienced players that Bonner is using right now.

Instead he is strongly focused on nurturing the careers of up and coming players such as Nathan Mullins, Niall O'Donnell, Stephen McBrearty, Jamie Brennan and Ciaran Thompson.

But Bonner has certainly not closed the door to his old guard. Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath and Neil McGee are all expected to resume normal duty shortly following varying periods of injury.

Bonner believes that his team's feisty second-half display against Dublin last weekend will help instil a more positive spirit among the squad for tomorrow night's mission.

"We have a lot of young lads who have shown they are capable of playing at senior inter-county level but they always knew it was going to be tough to get to their current level," points out Bonner. "Now the challenge for them is to push on and become a better-organised, more rounded side."

Tyrone: M O'Neill; A McCrory, C McCarron, B Burns; M Cassidy, R McNabb, K McGeary; C Cavanagh, B McDonnell; D McClure, H Loughran, C McCann; D McCurry, R McHugh, R O'Neill.

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