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Ronan O'Neill fired up to cap his Tyrone return with trophy glory

On song: Ronan O’Neill of Tyrone, back after a year out of the side, with Down’s Gerard Collins
On song: Ronan O’Neill of Tyrone, back after a year out of the side, with Down’s Gerard Collins
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Ronan O'Neill could hardly have timed his return to the Tyrone football team any better.

Having left the squad last year, it was thought that the Omagh St Enda's player had called time on his inter-county career but right now O'Neill is not only targeting a Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup medal but a fruitful Allianz League itinerary with the Red Hands.

In swooping for 2-3 in last Wednesday night's win over Armagh and then picking up a couple of points in Sunday's semi-final victory over Down, O'Neill underlined that his zest and appetite for the game are as great as ever.

"It's great to be back after a year out and I was very fortunate that things worked out well for me against Armagh," said O'Neill. "It was a bit different against Down on Sunday because I was more in the role of play-maker.

"I don't mind what role I fulfil, whether it's as a finisher or someone who is asked to set up chances. The aim now is to try and make sure that we win the McKenna Cup again because you don't want to be going into your first round match in the league after a defeat."

And with several key Tyrone forwards out of the reckoning just now, O'Neill's return is a welcome bonus for manager Mickey Harte.

With Mattie Donnelly still recovering from injury, Connor McAliskey having withdrawn from the squad, Peter Harte on an extended honeymoon in New Zealand and Cathal McShane Australia-bound, Mickey Harte has been suddenly stripped of a shoal of attacking talent.

But with O'Neill's career in the ascendency again, Darren McCurry right on top of his game, Conal McCann hungry for scores and Kyle Coney a creative force as well as a dynamic finisher, the Red Hands have every justification for feeling that they can offer a big threat to Monaghan in the McKenna Cup final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Saturday (7.30pm).

He may have had to surrender eight players to the demands of the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup competition, and a number of players apart from Donnelly are currently injured, but rather than bemoan his ill-fortune Harte is eagerly embracing the clash with Seamus McEnaney's Oriel side which will have former Tyrone strength and conditioning coach Peter Donnelly as part of its management team.

"I said at the outset of the competition that if we were fortunate enough to win three games that would take us into the final and so far that's how things have turned out," reflected Harte. "Now we are not only getting to play Monaghan with a trophy at stake but we will also have the opportunity to get another match under our belts.

"We know that the matches in the Allianz League are going to come thick and fast after this so we must be ready."

Even though his defence conceded 3-15 against Armagh and 1-10 against Down, Harte is confident that his team still possesses the forward power to maintain their winning start to the season.

"Obviously you want people like Darren McCurry, Ronan O'Neill and Kyle Coney in shooting positions as much as possible, because they are the best finishers that we have around at the minute," pointed out Harte.

Harte will certainly have no objection to returning to the Athletic Grounds either, as his Red Hands will be looking for their third win within a week there having beaten Armagh on Wednesday before Sunday's win over Down.

With Healy Park, Omagh due to be closed shortly until next spring to facilitate pitch reconstruction, Harte's face creases into a grin when he is asked if the Armagh city venue might serve as a temporary home should Tyrone perhaps reach the All-Ireland Super 8s later this year.

"Let's just say that's a long way down the line," he responded.

Belfast Telegraph

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