Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport GAA

Tyrone's defence is first line of attack

By John Campbell

Not many managers decide to re-vamp the core of their defence immediately prior to a vital assignment at Croke Park.

Fewer still would expect to win such a game when their most versatile commodity is ruled out at the 11th hour and a valuable creative force hobbles off with a hamstring twinge while it's still in its infancy.

But then Mickey Harte is not so much a law onto himself as a man apart.

Aidan McCrory and Ryan McKenna had all but claimed ownership of the No 2 and No 5 shirts over the course of the McKenna Cup and league up until Sunday week last when PJ Quinn and Dermot Carlin were suddenly spirited from the shadows for the first time this year to patrol the right flank of the Red Hands rearguard in the Allianz League semi-final against Kildare.

And if Joe McMahon's late withdrawal with an groin injury hinted at disruption, Harte, far from enduring the mildest tremor of panic, promptly summoned Ronan McNamee into action.

His response when Peter Harte's involvement was terminated prematurely was equally placid and clinical, Aidan Cassidy being despatched from the bench to help bulk up the middle third of the park.

Skipper Stephen O'Neill's electrifying finishing has quite rightly been hailed as Tyrone's ultimate weapon on the day but Harte knows that his arsenal went rather deeper than that.

And this is one of the reasons why, when he sits down tonight to finalise his team for Sunday's league decider against Dublin, he will be confronted by enriched options.

Joe McMahon and Peter Harte are possible but not probable candidates for selection again, Quinn and Carlin are chomping at the bit to resume sentry duty and Cassidy, so impressive as a substitute against the Lily Whites, is anxious to cement the belief that he is first-choice material once again while McNamee clearly covets the left-half-back berth.

It was at the outset of the league that Harte indicated with considerable conviction that "players will not be keeping places warm for others", confirmation that form would be the only guide in terms of the composition of the team sheet.

Quinn and Carlin may have been reluctant spectators up until then and would not necessarily have furnished a current form guide prior to the win over Kildare but it was their combined experience, tenacious marking and intelligent covering that earned them their call-ups.

They can now realistically expect to get the green light to face a Dublin side which did not quite have to engage top gear to usher Mayo out of the title reckoning in the other semi-final.

"We had just got showered and changed after the first semi-final when we heard that Dublin had two goals and six points on the board by that stage so there was only going to be one winner," recalls Quinn.

Jim Gavin has quietly revitalised Dublin, after introducing fresh blood and allowing his more adventurous warriors to go and express themselves freely although always within the constraints of what is nonetheless a flexible game plan.

Paul Mannion, Jonny Cooper, Jack McCaffrey, Darren Daly and Kevin O'Brien have brought a vitality, pace and energy to the team that has regularly discomfited opponents during the league – but not Tyrone who beat them by 0-18 to 1-14 in round five.

Typically, the Red Hands will be unafraid to show their full hand in a bid to win what would be their second league crown in ten years, manager Harte remaining unperturbed that his strategy will be forensically scrutinised by Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and his assistant Rory Gallagher in advance of the Ulster Championship showdown between the counties on May 26.

"We are where we want to be and that is contesting the league final in Croke Park," insists Harte.

"If others choose to put us under scrutiny, so be it.

"I would much prefer to be challenging for a major trophy and while we are obviously looking forward to the Ulster Championship, Sunday's final against what I feel is a good Dublin team is the only match on our radar at this point in time."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph