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GAA Football

Mickey Harte: Tyrone club risks worth taking to get Championship ready

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte speaks with the media as Monaghan player Neil McAdams is photographed during the launch of the Ulster Senior Football Championship at O'Neills, Strabane on Monday April 30 2018. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Francis Mooney

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has insisted the involvement of his players in a hectic schedule of club games in the lead-up to the Ulster Championship is a risk worth taking.

Leading scorer Lee Brennan suffered a hamstring injury while in action for Trillick last Sunday, and is a doubt for the first defence of the provincial title against Monaghan later this month.

The Red Hand players have turned out for their clubs over five successive weekends, and will do so again next weekend before returning exclusively to the county camp for the run-in to the Healy Park clash with the Farney men on May 20.

“That's the gamble you take. Lads need to play football for their clubs, and when you're playing continuously over five or six weeks, there's always the risk of injury. You just have to take that chance,” said Harte.

“I think it's fair enough, to go back to their clubs to play the games. They still train with us, and I think that's fair to both parties.

“I think in Tyrone, we have a good system there, where there's only five starred games that they're not available for.

“They're available for the rest of the league and they're available for all championship matches, so I think we have got the balance fairly good in our county, the clubs and the county squad work together with the county board to make that happen.”

Harte admitted that his players have had to endure a gruelling schedule since the start of the year, with no breaks between Dr McKenna Cup, National Football League and club league.

“Yes, it's demanding on the players. That's going to be six games they'll have played since the league finished.

“It's a very busy season, for you go from five games in the McKenna Cup, then we play seven league games, and with the bad weather, it took out a couple of the breaks.

“So it's been a very steady run for those that have been in the county squad, right from the start of the year, but that's where it's at, and when we have these six league games over, there'll be a starred round probably the week after that, so nearly half of the league will be played before the second week in May.

“That's good for the clubs, and it gives them good preparation for the Championship.”

Colm Cavanagh's prospects of being fit to face Monaghan are fading, as he struggles to recover from a quad muscle injury.

Harte revealed that the injury, sustained in training prior to the concluding NFL tie against Kerry, has proved more difficult than initially anticipated. He has not yet returned to training.

“He has suffered injury since that day before the Kerry game, just kicking a ball, and it has been more problematic than we thought at first.

“So he is in a race against time, and he hasn't played for his club yet, so what level of fitness he would have, game-wise, is going to be very doubtful at this stage.

“But we'll just keep our fingers crossed that he makes good progress in the last few weeks.”

The All-Star midfielder's sweeper role is key to the Tyrone game plan, and his absence would leave a huge void.

“His loss would be immeasurable,” said Harte. “He has been the back-bone of the style of play that we have been working on this last number of years. He has been central to that and he would be a huge loss, it would be very hard to fill his shoes.

“It became his role. He was always good with that sort of mind-set, he had a good defensive head on him for a midfielder, and he perfected that role of being that constant sweeper-like person.

“He has a lot of things going for him in doing that. He has experience, he's physically imposing, so it'd difficult to get a ball past him, he has a great reach and he's speedy across the ground, which maybe some people don't fully appreciate.

“And with the experience he has over the last number of years in playing that role, he's very difficult to replace.”

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