Ulster Championship: Donegal draw up battle lines
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte will carefully dissect tomorrow’s Cavan v Donegal Ulster football championship quarter-final as he steps up his bid to plot what would be a hat-trick of provincial crowns.
Compared to Tyrone, Cavan and Donegal have been starved of championship success for many years, fulfilling the roles of also-rans.
Yet the very fact that the Red Hands await the winners in the semi-final is in itself proving a huge incentive for Cavan boss Val Andrews and his Donegal counterpart Jim McGuinness to come up trumps tomorrow.
Andrews has pitched eight rookies into his side while McGuinness has taken the alternative route by bulking up his team with experience.
Both, though, know that their personal credentials and those of their teams will be up for inspection.
And Harte has, perhaps unwittingly, heightened their resolve by reiterating his long-held view on the Ulster title.
“I would contend that we in Tyrone are not exactly coming down with titles so any success we get in the province is to be cherished.
“Obviously we would be keen to claim another title this year but there is a long way to go yet. Those counties still in the hunt are just as ambitious as we are,” says Harte.
With Andrews keeping his fingers crossed that emerging talent such as Gearoid McKiernan, Niall McDermott, Niall Murray, Fachtna Flanagan and Patrick Carroll will flourish, McGuinness remains optimistic that his 22-year-old skipper Michael Murphy will show no ill-effects from his recent leg injury and that Michael Hegarty will herald his return to the championship stage with a vintage performance as playmaker.
Andrews concedes that how his players respond to the demands of tomorrow’s occasion will be a significant factor.
“We won’t really know the situation until the game is up and running,” he points out.
For his part, McGuinness is ready to employ different tactics than those which led to the preliminary round win over Antrim.
“This will be a new game and we will have a different approach. But the object will be to get into a semi-final against Tyrone,” stresses the Donegal boss.
Harte’s role this week in spearheading a move by managers to persuade RTE to give long-serving GAA correspondent Brian Carthy a more high-profile role as match commentator does not mean that he has taken his eye off the ball in terms of Tyrone’s ambitions.
But with the GAA hierarchy along with the All Ireland football championship sponsors and many players becoming distinctly uneasy with what is viewed as the downgrading of Carthy, a shadow has been cast over the championship landscape.
GAA President Christy Cooney, conscious of the reaction at grassroots level, has already expressed the hope that the matter will not be allowed to drag on over the course of the summer.
It is understood that Harte has been informed by RTE in response to the letter he sent on behalf of his managerial colleagues that the broadcaster “will assign personnel to cover matches as it sees fit.”
RTE Head of Sport Ryle Nugent appears to have underlined the station’s decision to deploy Darragh Maloney and Marty Morrissey as frontline championship match commentators.
Harte and the other managers associated with the initiative to bolster Carthy’s role are now, it is believed, planning to make further representations to RTE.
And it will be interesting to see this weekend if any managers refuse to co-operate in terms of giving post-match interviews to RTE as Harte, Justin McNulty and Kieran McGeeney did last Sunday.
Some current bosses and other high-profile personalities have distanced themselves from the initiative to back Carthy — former Clare All Ireland hurling winning manager Ger Loughnane has described the managers’ move as “ridiculous” — and this weekend will provide a further pointer to the level of support or otherwise for the initiative.