Sin bin may come into use as Armagh and Tyrone meet in BoI McKenna Cup Final
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Final: Armagh v Tyrone (The Athletic Grounds, 7.30pm tonight)
EVEN the intensely-prepared Mickey Harte admitted he didn't know about one of the experimental rule changes – but that may change tonight.
The 'sin-bin', which is being tried out as a punishment for 'black card' offences, was a mystery to the Tyrone manager when asked his views on the various proposals from the Standing Committee on Playing Rules.
"Well, we haven't seen any sin-bins yet, I haven't seen one. What is it now compared to a black card? How do you incur it?"
When told that black card offences remained the same, except the punishment now is 10 minutes off the pitch rather than being replaced by another player, Harte laughed: "We must have been very good because we haven't got any."
The levels of intensity and cynicism may increase tonight as the Red Hands get to grips with old rivals Armagh on the latter's home turf of The Athletic Grounds.
Yeah, yeah, it's 'only the McKenna Cup' - but the bosses are Harte and Kieran McGeeney, two born winners, and it's Armagh-Tyrone.
With the curtain-raiser also being a clash between teams from these two counties, between St Patrick's, Armagh and Omagh CBS in the schools' MacCormack Cup Final, the temperature and tempers on the pitch and in the stands may already be raised before throw-in for this decider at 7.30pm.
Harte and Tyrone always want to win, as evidenced by this being their 10th consecutive McKenna Cup Final appearance, having complete six triumphs in a row before Donegal dethroned them in last year's decider at this same venue.
Armagh, in contrast, haven't collected this trophy for a quarter-century, so they're not lacking in hunger for success, and won't want to be beaten in their own backyard.
Despite (or perhaps because of) seven players being down in Tralee with Ulster University (including Frank Burns, Michael McKernan, Brian Kennedy, and Lee Brennan) the Tyrone team is still strong – as is their bench.
Indeed if all 10 Tyrone substitutes (no back-up goalkeeper has been named) were in the starting side there'd be no talk about it being 'a weakened team', with only Ryan Gray, Darragh Canavan, and Ruairi Sludden really regarded as fringe players trying to prove themselves.
There are at least as many who can be considered in that category in the named line-up, namely corner-backs Ciaran McLaughlin and Liam Rafferty, wing-back Michael Cassidy, and midfielder Conan Grugan.
Those last two have been around, and the Ardboe defender has certainly impressed already with his strength and directness. Galbally lad Rafferty caught the eye against Derry, albeit in a more advanced role.
Harte commented: "We like to have the McKenna Cup to experiment with players, and we have introduced eight or nine players this year. We want to see what they can do and how far they can go at this level.
"Maybe the League's not for them just now, but we get a hint of what they might do in the future, so it's good to get five games to be able to do that and give them a reasonable amount of game-time."
Those newer faces in the Tyrone defence should be helped by intended first playing involvement in this campaign for an experienced pair, Ronan McNamee at full-back and Tiernan McCann at wing-back.
Whilst acknowledging the fluidity of the modern game, there are a couple of interesting positional selections in attack – Ronan O'Neill at centre half-forward and Peter Harte, the stand-in skipper, at full-forward.
That's where Harte played to great effect after coming on at half-time in the semi-final against Derry, while O'Neill being deeper should allow him to get on the ball more and display his passing ability.
After blowing away both St Mary's and Antrim, Armagh have obviously had closer contests in their last two matches, but it's praiseworthy that they've won both against top teams, Monaghan and Donegal, albeit that those two counties were missing some big names.
McGeeney will be pleased to see them coming through such tight tussles, a trait that will be much-needed in Division Two and the Championship.
Armagh's attack is much-changed from last season, but clearly for the better. It has obviously been boosted by the return of Stefan Campbell and Jamie Clarke, while the inclusion of Jack Grugan adds physical presence and Ryan McShane and Jemar Hall provide industry and pace. Captain Rory Grugan's class is evident.
The versatility of Jarly Og Burns offers options from midfield up, while there's scoring power further back too, including the counter-attacking quality of Mark Shields and Aidan Forker, perhaps even Connaire Mackin from the full-back line.
A sizeable crowd is anticipated and so is a decent game – and some goings-on and off the pitch…
Tyrone: N Morgan; C McLaughlin, R McNamee, L Rafferty; T McCann, A McCrory, M Cassidy; C Grugan, D McClure; N Sludden, R O'Neill, C McCann; D McCurry, P Harte (capt.), C McShane.
Subs: R Brennan, D Canavan, K Coney, M Donnelly, R Donnelly, R Gray, HP McGeary, K McGeary, C Meyler, R Sludden.
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).