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Tyrone must push on: Mickey Harte warns red hands to maintain progress or forget McKenna Cup dream

By Declan Bogue

The appointment of Joe Kernan as a mediator between counties and colleges over disputed players in the McKenna Cup had the feel of a band-aid solution to it from the start, and it appears that Kernan has accepted an impossible task as Tyrone manager Mickey Harte named no fewer than eight players from colleges in his McKenna Cup squad for January.

It should be noted however, that Harte's hand was forced by a raft of injuries and the need for an extended break for established mainstays such as Joe and Justin McMahon, Stephen O'Neill, Ronan McNabb, Kyle Coney, PJ Quinn, Dermot Carlin, Aidan Cassidy and Mark Donnelly.

In their absence, he has required the service of St Mary's captain Danny McBride, and he also welcomes back Niall Morgan from injury to claim the goalkeeper's jersey.

Pascal McConnell's retirement has meant further call ups for goalkeepers Hugh Gallagher of Omagh and Mickey O'Neill of Clonoe.

Elsewhere, the latest Ardboe McGuigan to roll off the production line – Shea – is included in his first senior squad and might be expected to eventually fall into the role of creative centre-forward that elder brother Brian graced the team with.

While there was a good deal of player turnover last year, Tyrone made it to a league final and an All-Ireland semi-final in a year of transition. Previously unheralded players such as Ciaran McGinley of Errigal Ciaran claimed their place in mid-Championship, and Harte is expecting others in the squad to do something similar over the next couple of months.

"It's too early to name names or put people under pressure but we would like people who played last year to add value to their game," commented Harte.

"If we have every player trying to add value to their particular performance, then collectively that will be beneficial. That's our goal and I have no doubt we will find other new players to emerge that people will not expect as much from.

"If we can get one or two more of those players, like Ciaran McGinley did last year, then that's great, that's consolidating your position in the overall scheme of things."

Given how Tyrone became competitive in every game again after some heavy defeats on their way out of the Championship, Harte urges caution for those that think they are the finished article.

"We would be happy that we made quite a degree of progress," he began. "You always have to measure that carefully as well.

"Progress needs to continue otherwise it goes backwards, therefore it's been an up-year, and you don't want to follow it with a down-year.

"I think we were competing at a very high level last year and to better that means we would be in a very good place. That's the challenge, that's what we are out to do and I think if we put our mind to that then we are capable."

Under Harte, Tyrone make no secret that they target winning the McKenna Cup and will be looking to defend it next year.

"I think it's important because it gets them in the mindset of games and how every game you play is important. If you can get that mindset then you will arrive at the league. There's no point going to the first game and saying, 'Oh God, the season's on!'," says the Red Hands boss.

A vigorous opponent of the new black card rule, Harte does not believe in lamenting its' introduction any further when he states, "It's there and you have to go and play with it. I hope that there's a smooth transition and that it becomes a part of that game without causing much fuss.

"That really is up to the interpretation of the referees, their views and how they implement it. If they implement it in a fair and equitable fashion and people come to accept what deserves and what doesn't deserve a black card, and they can differentiate between a black card, a yellow card and a red card, then that's grand."

He added: "If it comes to be a great success then we will have to hold up our hands, say it is a success and if it's not, then we are going to have to accept it anyway!"

Belfast Telegraph


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