Mickey Harte ready to "mix and match" to find right attacking formula for 2020
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final: Tyrone 0-11 Monaghan 1-5
ULSTER Council officials could take the liberty of engraving Tyrone’s name on the Dr McKenna Cup before a ball has been kicked such is their vice-like grip on the pre-season silverware.
At a freezing Athletic Grounds on Saturday night it was business as usual as the Red Hands retained their title against a makeshift Monaghan side who never quite possessed the firepower to trouble their rivals.
With Cathal McShane inching closer to an AFL move with Adelaide Crows and Mattie Donnelly on the long-term injury list there are quite a number of players putting their hands up to fill those sizeable voids.
Frank Burns, Darren McCurry and Ronan O’Neill all impressed in Tyrone’s three-point final victory over Monaghan while new boys Daniel Kerr and Conor Quinn, both from Galbally, also did their chances of staking a claim for an NFL place no harm.
“At the moment it looks like Cathal McShane won’t be available,” said Harte.
“I still have not given up hope, I hope he does come back and be with us this year, but if he is to go on and play the professional game, I wish him all the best.
“I think when you go out there to look at the place and to examine what’s going on, the chances are greater that you will stay, or that you will be encouraged to stay, but who knows?”
McShane’s former U21 team-mate Frank Burns mightn’t have the same explosiveness on the edge of the square but he has the brains and feet to make an impact at full-forward should Harte persist with the Pomeroy man there.
“We do experiment with things, and Frank is a very versatile player,” Harte acknowledged. “He probably can play anywhere in the field, right from the full-back line to the full-forward line.
“It’s good to have players like that, and we have to mix and match, we have to experiment, we have to see what we can do.”
In recent times O’Neill and McCurry dropped off the Tyrone panel due to a lack of playing time but there are places up for grabs ahead of their opening Division One tie against Meath next week, and the pair seem re-energised.
“If they can carry on the form that they have at the minute, and keep performing the way that they’re doing, then they will be very useful to this team as the season goes on,” Harte said of O’Neill and McCurry who hit a combined seven points on Saturday night.
“When we are without two people like Mattie and Cathal McShane at this moment in time, we do need new blood and new ideas in the forward line, and I think those two boys are showing plenty of that.”
Division One football is the ultimate test but Harte is encouraged that some of the newcomers can make the step up.
Kerr showed pace and intelligent movement in the Tyrone forward line while Quinn didn’t look out of place with number two on his back.
“That’s why we invited these boys in because they are all good footballers,” said Harte.
“Some can come in and be tentative and just maybe dip their toe in the water but I think those boys embraced the challenge and it’s great that they did because we have more artillery to call on.”
On Quinn’s composed display in the Red Hand defence, the manager said: “He’s a very good player, he’s light in stature but he’s a tall player. He’s a fast player, he’s been a good under-age player, and I think he’s showing us that he could handle playing at this level.”
And Harte is in no hurry to cull his squad ahead of next week’s NFL opener at home to Meath.
“I’m supposed to [cut it] but that’s not an easy job. We have a lot of injuries at the minute as well so I may have to defer that for a while yet.”
On Saturday’s comfortable win, he added: “I’ve learned that there are many ways to win a game of football and it can be very entertaining without having loads of scores.
“There were lots of quality football there – good defending, quality support play and people putting pressure on the shooters so that’s what maybe kept the score a bit more moderate than we had in recent times.”
Monaghan boss Seamus McEnaney held a host of his key men in reserve on Saturday night including Conor McManus and Rory Beggan and gave second half run-outs to Karl O’Connell and Ryan McAnespie.
But he did confirm Colin Walshe is ruled out of their NFL opener with Galway in Salthill next weekend after suffering an ankle injury in the early exchanges of Saturday night's McKenna decider.
“We wanted to give as many players an hour-and-a-half of football in the McKenna Cup and if you go back through it I’ve 30 players that played an hour-and-a-half over the three games and I’m delighted with that," said McEnaney.
“The only game I’m interested in is Galway. It’s our first game away, it’s Paraic Joyce’s first game in charge of Galway and I’m sure there’ll be a big crowd in Salthill."