Tyrone players can't wait to get back into action insists Red Hand boss Mickey Harte
TYRONE manager Mickey Harte has dismissed concerns over the unusually early start to the new season, claiming his players can't wait to get back to action.
The Red Hands have been given the go-ahead by the Ulster Council to launch their Dr McKenna Cup campaign a fortnight before the scheduled first round fixtures, due to their squad holiday to Thailand over the New Year period.
They will face Derry in their opener at Owenbeg on Sunday, with a two-week break before their second Group C game, against Ulster University on January 6, followed by a clash with Fermanagh on January 9.
All-Ireland finalists Tyrone and Dublin were the last counties to complete their 2018 season, and therefore subject to the lengthiest ban on a return to collective training.
“It doesn't take much of a break. If you're involved in this game, you like being involved,” said Harte.
“The players don't really need a long break, they just want that little bit of a break that makes them psychologically feel that they have been away from it for a while. But they don't be away too long before they want back again, that is the essence of the modern-day gaelic football athlete.
“They just want to be involved. If they weren't involved in preparing for gaelic games, they'd be doing something else anyway.
“So I think it's great that they get the opportunity to get back pretty quickly.”
Harte has recalled former Tyrone players Kyle Coney, Conan Grugan and Darren McCurry. Ardboe forward Coney and Omagh midfielder Grugan have been away from the scene for a number of seasons, while McCurry opted out prior to the start of this year's championship, missing the run to the All-Ireland final.
“They're good players, quality footballers. They have been away from us for a while now, but they have shown enough this year to say that they would like to get back into this set-up again, so they're in for the McKenna Cup now,” said Harte.
“We picked a number of players up from a few trial games to be available to us for that. This is the good thing about the McKenna Cup, it's competitive and if we can progress and get a fourth or a fifth game out of it, we'll have a good chance to see them at a progressively raising the standard game at this time of year, and then that will give us an indication if they really understand what it takes to play at the top level.
“That is the McKenna Cup squad, it's not the definitive squad for the season. We have a number of new players in that we want to look at in this competition. Some of them have been here before and we know what they're about, and there's some other lads that aren't as well known.
“And I expect some of them to make a bit of an impact too, so watch this space, and see what happens.”
Harte made it clear he is opposed to any moves to abandon the pre-season competitions as the GAA seeks further ways to condense the inter-county season.
“I think that there's a lot to be done in the overall scheme of things, where it's going to take a lot of work to get the best possible balance.
“We can't say it's there at the moment, and I'd like to think we could still facilitate the pre-season competition, because we don't do challenge matches, so we don't have any great opportunity to prepare well for the cut and thrust of the National League.
“So I'd like to think there would be some gap kept in the calendar for these pre-season competitions, and perhaps other things could still continue to be condensed, that we might get part of the inter-county season closed off earlier, and leave a better gap for club football at a certain time of the year, and maybe re-introduce the county football at another time.”