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Harte has his chance to cast an eye over new talent

 

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte will be afforded a rare opportunity to assess a generous raft of talent when his side confronts UUJ in Section C Round 2 of the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup on Sunday at Healy Park, Omagh (1.30pm).

Not only will the players in the familiar red and white of Tyrone come under Harte's radar but with UUJ ready to start with as many as seven players from the Red Hand county in their side, this will ensure that the triple All-Ireland-winning boss is provided with confirmation as to the talent he has at his disposal.

When UUJ drew with Fermanagh in their opening match in the competition, Lee Brennan scored nine points from their total of 0-12 while Michael McKernan was a cornerstone of the defence, the Tyrone duo making a huge impression in the contest.

With the Tyrone squad having just returned from their holiday in Thailand, Harte is giving game time to a number of fringe players.

Tyrone overcame Derry in their opening match in the competition last month and with Harte having already made his desire to recapture the trophy from Donegal clear, the fight for starting places in the Allianz League is gathering steam.

Darragh Canavan and Matthew Murnaghan were among those blooded against Derry with success and will start on Sunday alongside other newcomers such as Benny Gallen, Liam Rafferty and Ruairi Sludden.

There are starting places too for Ronan O'Neill and Aidan McCrory who get their chance to nail down places having had limited game time last year.

The new playing rules have certainly not found favour with Harte but he is nonetheless keen to see his side make as much headway as possible this month ahead of their opening league game against Kerry on Sunday, January 27.

"The way in which the McKenna Cup is organised gives us competitive football at this point in the year and that's why we always strive to do as well as we can in it," insisted Harte.

"If you can get out of your section, it gets more competitive and that is to be welcomed. And if you reach the semi-final and maybe the final then you get two extra games which will always prove a big help in terms of build-up towards the league.

"When you are in Division One and meeting the best sides, you need all the preparation you can get and we feel that the McKenna Cup fits the bill in this respect.

"I know some people decry the pre-season competitions but I take a different view. We had won the McKenna Cup for a number of years up until last year when Donegal took it from us but we would like to have it back again. We will have to earn it, though."

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke has been left with interesting selection options following fine performances by some of his newcomers in the win over Antrim.

As he prepares for Sunday's game against St Mary's at Clones, O'Rourke is mulling over the selection claims of Michael Bannigan, James Mealiff, Barry Kerr, Darren Freeman, Barry McGinn and Jamie Walsh in particular.

Bannigan emerged as the man of the match against the Saffrons in which his four points highlighted a superb all-round performance, while Mealiff embroidered a solid display at midfield with a well-taken goal.

"We have been carrying a big panel and we wanted to have a look at these players who have come in. There are others that we will assess as we go along and hopefully we will now have added strength in depth for the league," pointed out O'Rourke.

St Mary's can expect a stiff challenge at Clones following their heavy defeat to Armagh (6-17 to 1-7) in their opening game at Crossmaglen.

And on the hurling front, Cushendall ace Eoghan Campbell is armed with a two-fold mission as he prepares for his team's All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final against Galway side St Thomas.

Campbell has battled through the pain barrier in recent matches, including the Ulster Championship final win over Ballycran, but now he is not only hopeful of being fully-fit for All-Ireland action but he is particularly keen to see his side atone for what he felt was a below par performance in the final three years ago.

Regarded as one of the best players in the province, Campbell's experience in defence is viewed as crucial by manager Eamon Gillan and the player himself is convinced that Cushendall can come good this time round.

"I had a hand injury that impaired me to some extent lately but I expect to be fully fit for the semi-final. To be fair, there are other guys who have been carrying injuries but thankfully we have had a few weeks to sort these things out," revealed Campbell. "However, it's far more important that the team produce the best performance they can.

"When we reached the 2016 final against Cork side Na Piarsaigh we feel we did not do ourselves justice and we have been waiting our chance to try and make amends for that.

"Now we are getting that chance against what is a very good St Thomas team and we hope to rise to the occasion this time. We are now a more experienced team and we feel we are ready for the test."

While the painful memories of that 2016 decider remain - Cushendall were 2-12 to 0-6 adrift at the half-way stage before losing by 2-25 to 2-14 - there is a marked desire on the part of the players to go the full distance this time round in style.

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