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Niall Morgan's absence blunts Tyrone's attacking armoury

Harte backs O'Neill to grab big chance

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is hoping that his team can get the rub of the green when they meet Donegal in the Ulster Championship preliminary round tie against Donegal on Sunday.

But luck has already deserted Harte as he will be without his regular goalkeeper - and ace free-taker - Niall Morgan for the Ballybofey clash.

Morgan has not recovered from injury and his place goes to Michael O'Neill in a line-up that is rather similar to that which served the county during the league.

"Goalkeepers are very important and they are the start of every attack, but Niall only really started to get involved in training a week ago," reveals Harte. "I believe that in Mickey O'Neill we have a first-class replacement who has shown himself to be an outstanding player for Tyrone and he will certainly not be out of his depth against Donegal."

Morgan's absence could impact on Tyrone's ability to mount up scores given his record from long-range frees, but Harte believes that his team can rise to the occasion despite their disappointments in the league..

"I think there has to be some form of kickback given the criticism we have been facing lately," says Harte.

"Maybe in the league we did not get as many scores as we would have liked, but the fact of the matter is that we created a lot of chances. If we do that on Sunday, maybe we will close that gulf between Donegal and ourselves."

Ronan McNamee and Justin McMahon will again be key figures in defence while the experienced Colm Cavanagh and the fledgling Padraig McNulty will form the midfield. For McNulty, it will be a difficult championship debut against the formidable Neil Gallagher and Christy Toye in the Donegal engine-room.

Up front, Darren McCurry, Sean Cavangh and Barry Tierney will again be vital cogs with Peter Harte serving as the link between defence and attack.

Ulster Council officials, as well as a host of leading players, believe that this year's provincial senior football championship is the "most open" for some years.

And it's this as much as anything else that has triggered considerable interest in advance tickets sales.

Ryan Feeney, the Council's Head of Public Affairs and Tyrone skipper Sean Cavanagh are among those convinced that the competition will bring football to a new level.

"The fact that any one of five teams could win the Anglo-Celt Cup makes this championship the most open for some time," says Feeney.

"The Ulster Championship is actually bucking the trend. Attendances here are on the up while they appear to be dropping in other areas."

Tyrone skipper Cavanagh reveals the showdown at Ballybofey represents the acid test. "We were relegated in the league, but we hope to give our supporters something to cheer about this weekend," insists Cavanagh.

His Donegal counterpart Michael Murphy along with county chairman Sean Dunnion promise that there will be an "electric atmosphere" at MacCumhaill Park.

"While we maybe have had the upper hand on Tyrone of late, that gives us absolutely nothing in terms of Sunday's game," states Dunnion.

Meanwhile, Tyrone legend Peter Canavan has joined the Fulham Irish senior football management set-up.

The Tyrone legend will assist the 2011 London senior football champions for the remainder of the season.

TYRONE: M O'Neill; A McRory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R McNabb, J McMahon, P Harte; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; T McCann, M Donnelly, B Tierney; D McCurry, S Cavanagh, C McAliskey.

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