Big guns return as Tyrone aim to bounce back against Ulster University
Dr McKenna Cup Section C: Tyrone v UU (tonight, Healy Park, 7pm)
ANOTHER victory for Ulster University tonight will leave them well placed for a semi-final spot and end injury-hit Tyrone’s chances of making it to the knock-out stages.
The Jordanstown students go into this Healy Park clash sitting second behind leaders Cavan in Section C after they snatched a one-point victory over Donegal in a high-scoring opener last Sunday.
Meanwhile, Tyrone were rudely awakened from their pre-season slumber by an intense Cavan outfit and are now playing catch-up. After that five-point loss, Tyrone will be determined to return to winning ways tonight and manager Mickey Harte – who describes this meeting as “critical” - gives starts to Cathal McCarron, Colm Cavanagh and Justin McMahon as the Red Hands chase a victory that would put them back in the frame for the last four.
The five in-a-row champions suffered their first defeat in this competition since the 2011 final 25 games previously when they deservedly lost to Mattie McGleenan’s Breffni side and since then injury problems have mounted for Harte.
Mickey Cassidy, Rory Brennan and Connor McAliskey all picked up injuries against Cavan. Cassidy’s debut ended after just 15 minutes when he limped off with a hamstring injury and he now faces up to six weeks on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Brennan could be out for eight weeks with a shoulder injury and there was worse news for Clonoe forward McAliskey whose season could be over after he tore his cruciate ligament.
Three-time All-Ireland winner Harte will also be minus several experienced stars including injured All-Ireland winners Sean Cavanagh and Joe McMahon and Ronan McNamee and he is also without Trillick’s Allstar Mattie Donnelly who was sent off against Cavan for a late altercation with Seanie Johnston.
In their absence, Ronan McHugh, who saw some action after coming on as a sub in the opener, gets his first start tonight in a full-forward line that also includes Lee Brennan and Niall McKenna.
Padraig Hampsey comes into an experienced full-back line that also includes Joe McMahon and McCarron while experienced defender Ronan McNabb moves out to wing half-back.
“It’s out of our hands,” said Dromore clubman McNabb after the loss to Cavan.
“But we’ll go out to make improvements in the next two games, we’ll be going out to try and win those games as we always do, and just hope for the best.
“It would be great if we could get through to the semi-final, but look, if we don’t, we’ll just get stuck into training and prepare for the league as best we can.”
Meanwhile, Ulster University manager Martin McHugh has injury problems of his own to contend with. The Donegal native will be without three starters from last weekend - midfielder Niall McKeever, full-back Ricky Johnston and Lorcan Connor – and is also minus Mark Bradley and his Tyrone team-mate Frank Burns who will concentrate on Pomeroy’s All-Ireland Club Intermediate Championship campaign.
Burns hit four points in the 2-20 to 4-13 win against Donegal while Paddy McBrearty contributed 0-7 and Ryan McHugh hit 1-1.
Martin McHugh certainly isn’t expecting an easy ride in Omagh.
“A semi-final would be good preparation for the Sigerson but with the amount of players that we’re missing it’s going to be very, very difficult for us,” he said.
“We’ll have to battle away. We’ll expect a backlash from Tyrone because Mickey Harte wants to win every game and understandably so – he won’t want to lose two games in-a-row and he’ll be using this game as a way to get the boys back on track.
“What you want out of games like this is to find out that your players are good enough to compete at this level and that they are good enough to go forward in the Sigerson.”
Tyrone: M O’Neill; P Hampsey, Justin McMahon, C McCarron; R McNabb, T McCann, J Monroe; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; P Harte, N Sludden, C McCullagh; L Brennan, N McKenna, R McHugh
Ulster University: TBC