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McNamee keen to lay down marker

Published 16/01/2013

By Paddy Heaney




AFTER two games and two wins, Ronan McNamee has confirmed that his and Tyrone's plan for their Dr McKenna Cup campaign is very much on course.

"We want five games," said the 21-year-old. "Mickey [Harte] has made the point that we want to play five games, then we will take each National League game as it comes."

For now, Tyrone's return to Division One and their forthcoming games against Donegal, Kerry and Dublin aren't being discussed in the Red Hand camp. Having introduced more than a dozen new faces, the competition in the Tyrone squad is coming from within the changing room. The top priority is to survive the cull and make the cut for the League squad.

"Mickey wants everybody to knuckle down and get the results. We are mainly focused on the McKenna Cup," said McNamee.

Following an indifferent performance against Derry, the reigning McKenna Cup champions turned on the style against Antrim in Casement Park.

The Red Hands managed only 0-6 from play in their opening game. From their haul of 2-13 against Antrim, they landed 2-11 from play.

It was an impressive display of shooting, particularly as most of the scores came from new faces such as Darren McCurry (0-5), Plunkett Kane (0-2) and McNamee (0-2), who played at wing-back.

The former county minor and U21 got on the scoresheet with two superb strikes. Both of his points were long-range efforts, coolly lofted over the bar with a languid kicking style.

While the Aghyaran clubman was delighted to have scored, he revealed that his overriding emotion was one of relief.

McNamee was supposed to play against Antrim in last year's McKenna Cup. Listed in the team that was named during the week, McNamee broke his ankle during a challenge game with the county U21 team.

He missed the remainder of the McKenna Cup, all of the League and the Ulster Championship. He eventually returned for the Qualifiers. A sub against Roscommon, he made his Championship debut against Kerry in Killarney.

Speaking after his appearance in Casement Park, he said: "It's just nice to get the first game out of the way. It was good to get the two points. I was happy with them. Some days they go over and some days they don't.

"It was a very high intensity game. I started to cramp towards the end. I am not used to it. I am glad to get it over and done with."

Although capable of chipping in with a few scores, McNamee is clearly confident in the scoring threat which will be contained in Tyrone's new look squad.

"We have a lot of boys who can hit a point from anywhere. Darren McCurry and Conor McAliskey and Kyle Coney and Ronan O'Neill - you will not get four better forwards in Ireland than those boys.

"It's great to have those players in your side. Rather than having to mark them, it's the opposition that has to do that. It's good to have that," he said.

Given the raft of new personnel, it would be understandable if young players like McNamee felt pressurised to make an immediate impact. But McNamee revealed that Mickey Harte has ensured all the newcomers that they will be given time to find their feet.

"I think everybody feels under a bit of pressure when they make their good debut, but that is more to do with the fact that they want to feel that they deserve to be there, and that they are in contention," he added.

"Everybody has an equal chance. It doesn't matter if the first day doesn't go well, there will always be a next day.

"Mickey gives everybody a second chance. Everybody is on a par, and it doesn't matter who you are, are where you are from."

Following that routine victory over the Saffrons, it's difficult to envisage an upset in Healy Park tonight.

Mauled by Derry in Celtic Park, the Jordanstown students could struggle to lift themselves after just three days of rest.

While Adrian McGuckin and Barney McAleenan will have to rely on the same players, Mickey Harte will be able to introduce another batch of eager recruits, all of whom will be eager to make a good impression.

The fourth game in the planned series of five looks virtually guaranteed.