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We can have a major say again like Tiger: Kerr

 

High point: Tyrone duo Michael Cassidy and Harry Loughran celebrate last year's All-Ireland semi-final victory over Monaghan
High point: Tyrone duo Michael Cassidy and Harry Loughran celebrate last year's All-Ireland semi-final victory over Monaghan
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Eleven years have elapsed since Tyrone last took delivery of the All-Ireland title and such are towering standards which have been set under the baton of Mickey Harte that this is deemed to be in the nature of a famine.

But let's keep things in context - the GAA was founded in 1884 and the Red Hands had to wait until 2003 before Peter Canavan became their first captain to take delivery of football's biggest prize.

What's seldom is wonderful but at the same time a staple diet of success helps to sustain interest, nurture fresh talent, delight fans and attract sponsors.

It's little wonder then that current Tyrone chairman Michael Kerr is optimistic that, having successfully fended off ongoing critical barbs in relation to their perceived preoccupation with a defensive strategy, the team can capture significant silverware in the coming months.

And in a county where folk don't just like football but utterly worship it, the ebullient Kerr offers what he feels is the perfect incentive for his beloved Red Hands to scale the biggest peak again this year.

"Tiger Woods is just after coming back and winning a Major after an 11-year absence and if he can do it, Tyrone can do it," quipped the Carrickmore man.

"There's a fresh look to the team, a different strategy and this has served to reinvigorate supporters. I think people are seeing a different style of football just now and that's because we are making good use of our resources.

"Every county goes into the Championship with an air of expectation, you have to have this otherwise there is no point in taking part."

That may well be the case but every county is not entering the forthcoming Championship boosted by wins over Dublin and Galway in their last two league games - a statistic which drew a wry smile from Kerr when he was reminded of it.

"Well, we were building and developing in the league," he conceded. "Yes, our new style is proving popular with the fans and that's because there's maybe a different skills set in there now.

"No disrespect to previous groups of players - sure didn't we win All-Irelands in 2005 and 2008 as well? - but I think there's the possibility that we could now move on to a better level.

"We got to the All-Ireland final last year when we lost to Dublin but Mickey Harte was far from discouraged and look at the changes he has made in the interim.

"Competition for places could not be more keen. The desire of every player is to have a number on his back that is less than 15."

While the influence of Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly within the side is now greater than ever and Cathal McShane has surged into the spotlight as the ultimate target man, an infusion of new blood has made an impact which would not previously have been deemed possible.

"Mickey can only pick 15 but there are probably as many again who could walk into the team and do a good job for him," insisted Kerr.

"More and more over the course of the past 20 years or so, it's got to be all about the panel. Yes, it's a team game, but the 30-plus panel underpins it and Mickey puts great emphasis on this.

"We're probably among the top four or five teams in the country and that's because Mickey has consistently rebuilt the side since he first took over in the latter part of 2002."

Brian Kennedy, Ben McDonnell, Michael Cassidy and Kieran McGeary are among the players who were given their chance by manager Harte just a matter of months ago and who have now attained household name status.

To have helped in claiming Dublin's scalp in Croke Park and then in trimming Galway's sails at Healy Park, Omagh has probably done more to fashion the careers of these players than a whole season of action.

"You take the likes of big Brian Kennedy at midfield, he's a great player, and then you look at Ben McDonnell and see the progress he has made," said Kerr.

"These are just two examples of players who were given the chance and have made the most of it.

"The challenge for them and indeed the rest of the team now is to turn on the style in the Championship.

"But our whole focus is on the forthcoming Ulster preliminary round tie against Derry."

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