GAA Football

Peter Harte impressed by Tyrone's new contingent

Tyrone's Peter Harte gets away from Peter McKenna of Queen's during last Sunday's Dr McKenna Cup game at Healy Park. Picture by Séamus Loughran

EVIDENCE that newcomers are settling into Tyrone's squad off the pitch as well as on it came during Peter Harte's post-match interview.

Kieran McGeary strolled past, smiling and ruffled the stand-in skipper's hair, funnily enough just as his performance and that of his brother Hugh Pat were being praised by the media.

The Pomeroy player had taken Harte's usual number seven jersey in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup opener against Queen's and performed admirably against Fermanagh player Ruairí Corrigan, despite being dismissed late on for a second yellow card.

Harte laughed as last year's All-Ireland U21 winning skipper went on to the showers, commenting: "We're blessed with a great new group of young lads coming through. You saw what they did last year at U21 level and you can see already signs of them being able to bring it into the senior set-up."

While the McGearys and Coalisland's Pádraig Hampsey did well in defence, Harry Óg Conlon was strong in midfield and Lee Brennan excelled up front, especially with his free-taking. Jonathan Monroe also came off the bench to score a goal from wing-back.

Harte's admiration for the fresh faces was utterly unforced, saying: "They were brilliant - it looked like they were the seasoned campaigners the way they were playing - no fear.

"The competition will get harder as it goes on, we're playing now Derry and Antrim, then starting Division Two, so it'll be tough, it'll be a good learning curve. If we can keep working hard, keep the heads down, hopefully we can make it a good year… It's very early in the season, but if they keep progressing like that and keep a good attitude, like they all have, then it bodes well for the future."

Harte himself had taken on the senior captaincy against the students, although Seán Cavanagh did come off the subs' bench, and Peter saw the Moy man's involvement as another sign of Tyrone's increasing squad strength, with the first of several trips to take on old rivals Derry looming on Sunday: "We had big Seán [Cavanagh] back, Connor McAliskey, so it's a great chance to get everyone back in," he said. 

"It's really to get you up and running for the start of a very competitive Division Two. You need that. All the best teams have competition [for places] - look at Dublin, Kerry, they probably have the strongest panels and that's what drives them on. That's what we're striving towards, to be able to have a very competitive panel  because it'll bring everybody on. Hopefully we can do that over the year."

Harte's own place, no matter what jersey he's given, is in no danger as long as he continues the fine form he showed last year and again last Sunday. Wearing the number 11, he played a part in all three Tyrone goals and kicked two fine points himself.

Trillick teenager Brennan scored six points in his 43 minutes on the pitch, including impressively kicking five frees, mostly off the heavy ground, and Harte regards that as another important element in the squad. He's a free-taker himself, as is Cavanagh, although Ronan O'Neill and goalkeeper Niall Morgan were the others on those duties last Sunday.

"Definitely, when you looked at Lee in the Tyrone championship last year, he knows where the posts are," said Harte.

"That's what you need, a lot of good free-takers, you don't know who's going to be on the field at that time. He struck them very well. All the best to him - Cillian O'Connor and those boys don't miss."

Nine successful first-half frees from Brennan and O'Neill helped Tyrone towards a total of 3-17, which pleased Harte on a pitch made tricky by all the recent rainfall: "There were times there were just big puddles in certain areas - some of the pitch was in very good shape," he said. 

"It made it very difficult, actually, for the boys playing in the full-forward line to keep their feet and get turning. But it was the same for both teams and I think it was probably a decent enough spectacle considering the conditions… I suppose it's a good score to be getting, but it's very early doors but, look, you'd rather be getting it than not getting it.

"We were sleeping a bit early on and Queen's were probably a wee bit more aggressive than us but, after we found a bit of rhythm, we got into it and probably played well considering the conditions."

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