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Harte has 2019 in mind as he hunts fresh talent

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte’s painstaking analysis of his county’s senior club football Championship will continue this weekend when two enticing semi-finals are expected to bring fans out in their thousands.

With 2016 champions St Mary’s, Killyclogher due to meet Ardboe O’Donovan Rossa on Sunday, and Coalisland set to lock horns with near neighbours Edendork on Saturday, the scene is set for a tremendous climax to a competition that has thrown up its share of thrills, exquisite skill, spectacular finishing and controversy to date.

Harte has unobtrusively assessed quite a number of players to date and will shortly get down to the business of naming his preliminary panel for the 2019 season.

Tiernan McCann, Mark Bradley and Conall McCann are among the current county players who will be on duty with Killyclogher, while David Mulgrew is Ardboe’s standard-bearer in the Red Hands line-up.

Coalisland, meanwhile, currently provide dynamic duo Padraig Hampsey and Michael McKernan, while Niall Morgan carries the flag for Edendork in Harte’s senior line-up.

“The Tyrone Championship is always hugely competitive, as is evidenced by the fact that a number of different teams have won the trophy spanning recent years,” reflected Harte. “Obviously the intensity of Championship football can provide a barometer of how players can cope with pressure and the door is always open to fresh talent.”

This time last year, Hampsey and McKernan were virtually unknown in the sphere of senior inter-county football, yet today they are both in the running for coveted All-Star awards.

“The opportunity is there for players to progress and to better their careers and it’s great to see the manner in which some of them have availed of this. Hopefully others will want to follow in their footsteps,” said Harte.

Unlike some county team bosses, who prefer to almost wrap their players in cotton wool, Harte makes no bones about what he sees as the value of players turning out for their clubs as often as possible.

Even before a ball was kicked in this year’s Ulster Championship, Harte reiterated his long-held belief that players actually benefit from regular club action, and this belief was certainly substantiated by the manner in which Tyrone scorched through to the All-Ireland final.

“Allowing players to turn out for their clubs is a gamble you take,” Harte declared then.

“Lads need to play football for their clubs, and when you’re playing continuously over five or six weeks, there’s always the risk of injury. You just have to take that chance.

“I think it’s fair enough for them to go back to their clubs to play the games. They still train with the county squad and I think that’s fair to both parties.

“I believe that in Tyrone we have a good system where there are only five starred games that they’re not available for.”

It was in the immediate aftermath of last month’s All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin that a defiant Harte pledged that his team would absorb lessons from this year’s campaign and return in 2019 fortified by renewed vigour.

From the outset of the county Championship he has cast his net wide and right now he is preparing to apply the finishing touches to his talent trawl.

Tyrone’s last All-Ireland title coup came in 2008 and this is a gap which Harte is particularly keen to bridge.

Meanwhile, Down officials are preparing to host what one of their number alludes to as “a real blockbuster” of a county final between Kilcoo and St Mary’s, Burren.

The sides met in the decider last year when Kilcoo clinched their sixth successive title, but Burren, who are now under the joint stewardship of Down 1991 All-Ireland-winning captain Paddy O’Rourke and Armagh 2002 All-Ireland hero Steven McDonnell, are particularly keen to end their rivals’ period of dominance.

Burren, of course, have been the kingpins of Down in the past, notably when they won All-Ireland Club success in 1986 and 1988, and there is a clear yearning for those glories to be recaptured.

County chairman Sean Rooney said: “We are expecting a great climax to our Championship and, while Kilcoo will be keen to keep a hold on their trophy, Burren will be particularly anxious to get it back into their care again.”

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