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Tyrone will step up in Cup final: McCann

Getting there: Conall McCann believes Tyrone can improve
Getting there: Conall McCann believes Tyrone can improve
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Tyrone may have scored 6-47 in their three games to date, competition for starting places is still razor-sharp despite a high level of absenteeism and manager Mickey Harte clearly has his sights set on a twelfth McKenna Cup triumph under his watch, yet you won't discern the slightest element of complacency within the camp ahead of Saturday's final against Monaghan.

Not for the first time in his distinguished managerial career, Harte has responded robustly to a challenge, on this occasion cleverly amending his side following the loss of a number of players.

Harte initially had his sights on compiling what he had hoped would be a settled line-up for the Allianz League and, although this is still a priority, unavailability and injuries have not facilitated this task.

Yet while Tyrone will return to what they now view as the extremely comfortable environs of the Athletic Grounds this weekend, they will do so in the knowledge that much work still has to be done.

And this belief is not necessarily expressed by Harte but by the players themselves, some of whom are availing of an opportunity to resurrect their inter-county careers while others are enjoying a first bite at the elite-level cheery.

It was Conall McCann who fired the first salvo in Tyrone's ultimately straightforward semi-final win over Down on Sunday by plundering a third minute goal before going on to add two points, and then afterwards maintaining that the team's progress to date this month should be kept in context.

"We got off to a good start against Down on Sunday and half-time probably came at a bad stage for us because we were going well then," smiles McCann ruefully.

"But we didn't score for a long stretch of the second-half, although our game management got us through in the end. However I still think we have plenty of work on our hands because, while we have been winning games, we have also been conceding rather a lot and that has to be a worry.

"Obviously we are going through a bit of a transition at this point in time with some players getting their first chance to play at inter-county level, so you have to expect that there will be teething problems."

"While there is plenty to work on, as I say, it's still encouraging that we are winning games. Obviously Monaghan will be a tough challenge for us in the McKenna Cup final because they have already beaten Derry and put up a good performance against Donegal, and, like ourselves, they will want to get a boost ahead of the league."

McCann's form, and that of Ronan O'Neill and Kyle Coney, has encouraged manager Harte (left) as he begins to focus on the league in which Tyrone will face a stiff itinerary in Division One.

While he is hoping that players will return to the fold after their involvement in the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup campaign has ended, Harte is still preoccupied with formulating an attack which he wants to thrive against teams like Kerry, Dublin and Mayo.

Darren McCurry has certainly laid claim to a regular place in the side following his seven points and three frees against Down, while Ronan McHugh grabbed 1-1 after coming on from the bench.

"It's good to see players getting game time ahead of the league, which will be fiercely competitive," insists McCann.

"I think it is worth pointing out that for some players the McKenna Cup is extremely important in that it represents their chance to seal a place on a more regular basis.

"This might be the only time they will see action at inter-county level, and you can't blame them for wanting to make the most of their opportunity at this particular time."

Harte, meanwhile, is expected to unveil his side tonight and it is anticipated that he will continue with his policy of nominating a fusion of experienced players and raw recruits.

Monaghan boss Seamus McEnaney has already confirmed his line-up, which will be led by new skipper Ryan Wylie and which contains few players with any real level of inter-county experience.

Not only do the Farney side want to surprise their opponents, but a number of players are keen to make a big impression ahead of the league.

MONAGHAN: C Forde; D Wylie, C Walshe, C Boyle; S Carey, R Wylie, P Keenan; N Kearns, B McBennett; M P O'Dowd, R McAllister, D Ward; J Irwin, K McEnaney, P Donnelly.

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