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Mickey Harte has strong hand for Tyrone's pivotal tie against Kildare

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte believes Sunday's clash with Kildare could prove a defining point in Division One of the Allianz Football League.

Given that in the league a fine line invariably separates a vibrant push for promotion and a tortuous battle against relegation, Harte is convinced that victory against the Lily Whites will help keep his side "on the right side of the table."

And his hopes of sustaining an unbeaten run which had its origins on day one of the new season, have already been boosted by the playing riches which he now finds he has at his disposal.

From the side that beat Mayo in the league on February 9, Harte was able to make 11 changes for last Wednesday's Power NI Dr McKenna Cup final against Cavan and his side still managed to register a 1-15 to 0-11 victory.

It is a measure of the Red Hands playing power that since then Mattie Donnelly, Rory O'Neill and Conor McAliskey started for UUJ in the Sigerson Cup final against UCC while Colm Cavanagh, Conor Clarke, Peter Harte, Niall Morgan and Sean Cavanagh were on duty for Ulster against Connacht in the inter-provincial final on Sunday.

Kildare have beaten Mayo (2-19 to 2-18) and lost to Cork (0-16 to 1-12) in the league to date and manager Jason Ryan will again be without several of his more established players for Sunday's encounter, which could further tip the scales in Tyrone's favour.

And if competition for places in his starting line-up is fiercer than ever, Harte has been presented with strong grounds for giving the merits of P J Quinn, Ronan McNabb, Dermot Carlin and Plunkett Kane particular consideration after the quartet blossomed in the win over Cavan.

"There are a lot of very hungry players in this squad," said Quinn.

"For some boys the McKenna Cup medal they won last week was their first with the county senior team and obviously we are all keen to kick on from there.

"It takes something special to be able to stay in this Tyrone side."

Harte, obviously pleased that players are challenging so robustly for positions, has given a warm welcome back to Ronan O'Neill and Sean Cavanagh in particular.

Both have been in majestic form this month, the former's return to the high standards which he had previously set for himself currently proving a massive bonus for the Red Hands.

"Ronan was out for a long time with a cruciate ligament injury and I have often told players that it takes a year to get over the injury and another year to get their football prowess back to the level it was at," said Harte.

"Ronan has discovered that now and he knows what he can do. The more games he plays at this time of the year and the fitter he gets then the more prolific he will become as a forward."

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