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Mickey Harte feels heat as Tyrone bid to retain status

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is tonight expected to put the finishing touches to what is conceivably one of his most important team line-ups ahead of Saturday's crucial Allianz Football League Division One clash with Donegal.

The Red Hands are currently second-bottom of the table along with Mayo, while pointless Kildare are marooned at the bottom, but Harte's men simply cannot afford to lose more ground in their bid to avoid relegation.

Having lost to Dublin, Monaghan and Galway and just managing to chisel out a one-point victory over Kildare, the competition has been a fraught experience to date for the Tyrone players.

Now, with the all-round intensity stepped up, Tyrone will be expected to dig deep into their reserves of talent, stamina and pride if they are to regain credibility in what has been a chastening campaign.

With Kildare and Mayo scheduled to meet at Newbridge on Sunday, the outcome of this game could also have a bearing on just where Harte's men will find themselves that evening.

He may have taken issue with recent media suggestions in relation to his team's strategy, but Harte has not allowed this to deflect him from what he sees as a significant mission against a Donegal side which has lost four players within the past two weeks.

Eoin McHugh, Michael Carroll and Peter Boyle have stepped aside from the squad, while defender Conor Morrison suffered a fractured ankle during a work-out following the team's win over Kildare and is not expected to be available again for perhaps ten weeks.

On the credit side, Donegal are set to welcome back the experienced Frank McGlynn, while Odhran MacNiallais has been showing superb form since his restoration to the line-up by Declan Bonner.

Martin McElhinney may also get some game time against the Red Hands but Paddy McGrath's return from injury is some way off yet.

Harte looks certain to include Colm Cavanagh at midfield with Ronan McNamee, Cathal McCarron, Peter Harte and Padraig Hampsey set to bolster the defence, while the talented Brennan brothers Rory and Lee are also expected to feature.

It was in the immediate aftermath of his team's loss to Donegal in the McKenna Cup final that Harte emphasised the important challenges confronting his side.

"We need the points from our remaining games if we are to stay in Division One so every game from now until the end of the league will have a championship fervour," declared Harte.

Donegal boss Bonner, still striving to formulate a settled side, accepts that the Dr McKenna Cup final win will "count for precisely nothing" in the context of Saturday's crunch league tie.

"That match is over and done with. Saturday is going to be a completely different game. It's an Ulster derby between north-west rivals, and it's going to be another real tense affair," insists Bonner.

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