GAA Football

Mickey Harte expecting stiff test from winless Fermanagh

Francis Mooney

A draw will be enough to send Tyrone through to the Dr McKenna Cup semi-finals when they take on a Fermanagh side still looking for a first win in this season’s competition.

The unbeaten Red Hands are poised to top their group, having already scored convincing wins over Derry and Ulster University, and the Erne men travel to Healy Park this evening with their exit already confirmed.

Rory Gallagher will not, however, view this tie as a dead rubber.

There’s much to play for in terms of using this final competitive outing ahead of the National Football League to do important preparatory work for the Division Two visit of Cork to Brewster Park later this month.

By then, he hopes to welcome back some established players, and a bonus has been the impact of newcomers such as Kevin McDonnell and Darragh McGurn.

His counterpart Mickey Harte has also uncovered a few fine prospects, notably defender Liam Rafferty and midfielder Brian Kennedy, while the return of Conan Grugan also appears to be a positive move.

Once again, he will mix the old with the new as he targets as many competitive games as possible ahead of the NFL Division One trip to Kerry on January 27.

In spite of the contrasting Dr McKenna Cup prospects of the two sides, Harte expects Fermanagh to arrive in Omagh with a resolve to perform to the highest possible standards.

“I think we’ll expect probably our stiffest game, because when we play Fermanagh, there’s never much in it, and they really do like beating us, and we don’t like getting beaten by them or anybody else,” he said.

“So I think it will be interesting, I think it will be a very competitive game, and I hope that we get enough to take us through to the semi-final again.”

With a raft of changes from the eight points win over UU at the weekend, the Red Hand boss will continue to assess his options as he prepares to cut a 42-strong squad down to more manageable numbers before the league starts.

“It’s always been a mix and match in the McKenna Cup. You want to give people game time because some people are in here on trial at the moment to see if they’re good enough at this point in their development to be with us,” said Harte.

“Some of them, because of age, or whatever, may not be just right there yet, but this is why they need game time, because we have to make decisions, because we have more than we can afford to carry in our panel now, with people coming back from injury etc, etc.

“We have to make decisions at the end of the McKenna Cup, so we have to give as much game time as we can to people who need that game time, and yet not over-work the players that have been here and done it year-in, year-out.

“It’s a balancing act, and we have always tried to keep that balance sufficient to give the players that are coming in good enough support, and yet not over-tax the players that are always going to be there.”

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