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Forward power can prove vital as Tyrone eye semis


Red alert: Ronan O’Neill is hoping to secure game time for Tyrone
Red alert: Ronan O’Neill is hoping to secure game time for Tyrone
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Every manager would enthusiastically concur that right now is the best time of the season to be spoilt for choice in terms of team selection.

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte is no exception and, when he sits down tonight to finalise his line-up that will confront Roscommon in Saturday's opening All-Ireland Group Two Phase One quarter-final at Croke Park, he will be confronted by an abundance of forward riches.

When Ronan O'Neill, Mark Bradley and Rory Brennan were despatched from the bench into the action against Cork last Sunday, they not only contributed handsomely to their side's landslide victory (3-20 to 0-13) but they rapped out a defiant message that starting places against Kevin McStay's conquerors is their real goal.

Between them, O'Neill and Bradley knocked up 2-2 to help ease the Red Hands down the home straight, and now Harte must weigh up his options before making his call for his side's most important game of the year to date.

They may have floundered against Monaghan in the Ulster Championship, a game during which O'Neill made his displeasure at being substituted known, and lived dangerously against Meath in their opening qualifier, but since then Tyrone have acquired a level of authority and confidence that are calculated to discomfit opponents.

So too is their imposing record in the qualifiers since the competition's inception. In all, the O'Neill county have played 32 games in this sphere winning 28, a statistic that speaks for itself.

Little wonder, then, that Harte's desire to see his side negotiate the Super 8s is palpable.

"It would really have broken our hearts had we not made it into the quarter-finals," states Harte. "We have played a lot of football this year and this is where we always wanted to get to. When we were beaten by Monaghan in the Ulster Championship we were asking big questions of ourselves. "

"The thing that drove us on was the fear of being left out in the cold when the Super 8s stage had been reached, and we are just so glad to be part of it."

"We had to make sure and get things right every day we went out to play in the qualifiers, otherwise we were history."

Harte was certainly keeping one eye on the immediate future when he scrutinised the Roscommon v Armagh game which preceded his own team's win over Cork at Portlaoise on Saturday.

"They are a very good side, they are young and they are familiar with Croke Park. They are a potent force up front. We have to be very, very conscious of their ability to get scores from a variety of places," he insists.

But while Harte is aware of the threat that Roscommon will pose, he can take considerable satisfaction from the fact that no fewer than ten of his players hit the target against what was an admittedly impoverished Cork outfit, whose intensity and pride deserted them.

Yet the triple All-Ireland winning manager has not been slow to pinpoint what he felt was a shortcoming within his side - something that he does not want to see replicated this week-end.

"I felt at times we were taking the wrong option, especially in the first-half, and maybe taking too much out of the ball," points out Harte.

"After the interval, we concentrated better on getting the ball to the best man in position to take a shot and this worked for us and we were able to knock up a decent score. We have to take this on board for Saturday's game because we know Roscommon will be ready for us."

Harte is particularly keen that injuries should be avoided as he expects his existing resources to be tested to the full between now and the end of his team's championship run.

"I've maintained all along the line that it's imperative we should have strength in depth at this time of the year because the matches are coming thick and fast. While we hope they keep coming, we have to hope that we will be able to cope with them," added Harte.

Belfast Telegraph


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