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Prize guy: Tyrone boss Mickey Harte is out to build on McKenna Cup triumph

Prize guy: Tyrone boss Mickey Harte is out to build on McKenna Cup triumph

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

Prize guy: Tyrone boss Mickey Harte is out to build on McKenna Cup triumph

The playing surface at Healy Park, Omagh may not always be to everyone's liking but you can rest assured that Tyrone are only too happy to be hosting Meath there in their first game in Division One of the Allianz Football League tomorrow (2.00).

Manager Mickey Harte makes no bones about the fact that he is content to see his team have the chance to get an opening day win under their belts and to this end he will rely on a solid core of experience.

To date Harte has given some 30-odd players their chance in the McKenna Cup but now he has pruned his selection options as experimentation is once again put on the long finger.

In winning the McKenna Cup, Tyrone laid down a marker that although they may be weakened in terms of personnel their ambition and desire are as strong as ever.

"We have men in there who want to play for Tyrone and that's important," points out Harte.

"You always want to win your first game in the league so that you are not left trying to play catch-up."

While much has been made of the absence of players such as Mattie Donnelly, Cathal McShane, Connor McAliskey, Mark Bradley and others, Harte not surprisingly prefers to dwell on players who have been doing the business very efficiently for him over the course of recent weeks.

"I think we saw some encouraging signs during the McKenna Cup competition that we have players who can step into the breach and perform to a high level," points out Harte.

"You don't want to lose your first game in the league and then be trying to make up ground.

"Strangely enough last year we had only one point out of six at one stage and yet at the end of the day if Mayo had not been beaten by Kerry we would have been in the final."

"But just the same, maybe that was not the best way of going about things. I would rather we got early points to take away the threat of relegation as quickly as possible. Every team is in the same boat in the early games so there is going to be a lot of energy expended."

With Frank Burns having impressed as a target man to date and both Ronan O'Neill and Darren McCurry having been pocketing scores with cool precision, Tyrone's attacking arsenal has lost none of its cutting edge.

Burns not only caught the eye when deployed as a target man during the Dr McKenna Cup competition but also used his experience to good effect when dropping back to bolster the Red Hands' defence as and when the occasion demanded.

He is currently proving a valuable link in the Tyrone chain and his willingness to lay the ball off and thus create scoring chances has afforded both O'Neill and McCurry the opportunity to flourish.

Skipper Kieran McGeary has also been quietly but effectively fulfilling the role of conduit within the side, invariably covering a lot of ground when it comes to breaking up opposition forays and then launching counter attacks.

The Meath defence can expect to face a torrid examination while their attack may be handicapped by the absence of stellar forward Michael Newman who is injured.

But Meath, who gained promotion last year after racking up a series of impressive results, can still look to players such as Donal Keogan, Barry Dardis and James McEntee to stoke their fire.

Their attack will certainly miss the guile and flair of Newman but the team still has a facility to poach scores.

Manager Andy McEntee has shown himself to be a shrewd tactician and he will certainly require all his know-how to cope with Harte's strategy.

"Obviously having to travel to Tyrone is a tough opener for us but then there are no easy matches in Division One," states McEntee.

"This is the cutting edge of league football and every team wants to be on their toes from the outset.

"You simply cannot afford to find yourself trying to play catch-up in the present hugely competitive environment."

While Tyrone will be facing a step up in terms of the quality of their opposition, they should be more than capable of passing this initial league test.

Belfast Telegraph