Harte puts his trust in league stars for Derry tie
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has delved a little deeper into his selection treasure chest to come up with what he regards as a potent mix of youth and experience to confront Derry in Sunday's Ulster Championship preliminary round tie at Healy Park, Omagh.
While it was accepted that Harte's resources could present him with potential posers, the triple All-Ireland-winning boss is prepared to place his faith in a battery of players who helped his county to chart an encouraging Allianz League campaign which culminated in wins over Dublin and Galway.
Frank Burns, Michael McKernan and Tiernan McCann, who did not line out against Galway, now get the opportunity to parade their wares in a Championship match that has captivated the entire country.
Burns is included at left-half-forward but is likely to be handed a marking brief while McCann, who has been a regular at right-half-back, is named at left-half-back while McKernan, who missed a portion of the league, slips in at left-full-back.
Richie Donnelly and Brian Kennedy, who have impressed at midfield of late, now get the opportunity to prove their worth on the Championship stage while Errigal Ciaran starlet Ben O'Donnell, who is maturing into a very capable performer, will help to link the play.
Obviously the triumvirate who were outstanding in the league - Peter Harte, Cathal McShane and skipper Mattie Donnelly - will again have key roles.
With the Slaughtneil club expected to provide perhaps one-third of the Derry line-up, Harte is conscious that his side will face a rather better organised, more cohesive Oak Leaf formation than has been the case in recent times.
"The fact that Derry can call on several Slaughtneil players will undoubtedly give them added stability and this will offer a big challenge to us," said Harte. "But we are going into a condensed Championship which is good because I think it dragged out a bit long of late. Now things are going to move faster so we have to be on our toes from the outset.
"I think that sometimes you can be forced to wait too long for a game to come along and that's maybe not a good thing."
The inclusion of Michael Cassidy at right-half-back does not come as a big surprise as he was in superb form in the closing stages of the league and that surge of cool displays could see him now hold down a regular berth in the Championship.
"Michael has come in and performed very well for us. He took his chance when he got it and now hopefully he can take things to the next level," said Harte.
And while the theory that Tyrone will cruise to a comfortable victory continues to do the rounds, Harte moves to put things into what he sees as the proper perspective.
"We have the experience of 2006 to remind us what it is like to lose to Derry. We went into that Ulster campaign as All-Ireland champions albeit carrying a few injuries and Derry went in as underdogs. At the end of the day, though, we were the ones who were out of the Championship," recalled Harte. "So we know there will be favourites and there will be underdogs and generally the favourites win but not always. Sunday, then, could be a not always day as much as the general day so we need to be ready for whatever might come.
"Anyone from Tyrone would know that the score from 2006 tends to be splashed at us a bit but it should move us to try and ensure that it is not a place to which we would wish to return on Sunday."
Tyrone put the finishing touches to their preparations last night at their Garvaghey complex where Club Tyrone hosted a pre-Championship get-together.
Club Tyrone spokesman Mark Conway said: "Interest in the Championship is at fever pitch and people can't wait for Sunday.
"We have the greatest of respect for Derry. This will be a great Championship opener because both teams will feel they have a big point to make.
"We are very keen to get the Ulster title again and Derry are fired up to build on their league run that has now taken them into Division Three."
Tyrone: N Morgan; P Hampsey, R McNamee, M McKernan; M Cassidy, B McDonnell, T McCann; R Donnelly, B Kennedy; M Donnelly (capt), N Sludden, F Burns; C McShane, P Harte, C Meyler.