TYRONE manager Mickey Harte begins a tour of the county this weekend in search of new talent.
Harte will trawl for prospects by attending a host of club championship matches. He will also use the exercise to monitor the form of established county squad members. Eight championship matches will be played at four venues over the weekend, including four SFC first round ties.
The programme continues a week later, with a similar programme scheduled: "The season won't be closed for me because there's lots of championship football coming up and I want to see the current form of the players who are in the squad and see if there are any more players out there who merit attention and that will keep me interested," said Harte.
The All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo means a five-month break from the inter-county scene for Tyrone, but Harte believes the void can be satisfactorily filled by club action: "It is a long time, especially when you're used to going full tilt from last November. It's an awful shock to the system to be cut off and say 'This is no more'.
"The lifestyle you had for the last nine or 10 months isn't going to happen for the next three months at least, so you have to adjust to that and the players have to adjust to it. Now, they have the clubs to go to of course and that is good for them because that is the continuity they need. They need to go back and get involved with their clubs, particularly with the championship still fully alive as it is, that's great for all of the players."
And by launching themselves into club action, Harte's players will maintain essential levels of fitness: "They'll have to work again at that and that will bring them through no doubt to October, some of them maybe on into November, but the majority will still keep going to October and that will give them the continuity they need to keep up to the level of fitness and to the level of attention that they have to their own personal detail and that will be good."
Reflecting on two seasons of rebuilding and transition, Harte sees a bright future for Tyrone. Young players have tasted the pressure of playing big Championship games at Croke Park, gaining vital experience, which they will utilise and build upon during 2017.
"I think it gives them a great deal of confidence to know that they're capable of playing at a very high level and we have a lot of younger players in the entire squad at the minute and they've never had this experience before," he added.
"And now they've got two years of very valuable experience and I hope that we'll see the real value of that when they go to Division One of the league next year and they meet the top teams because, for some of these players, that will be their first experience of a Division One league campaign.
"And I think that, along with a real assault on retaining the Ulster title, would give them a huge amount of confidence, but these are challenges that we'll face in 2017 and I hope they'll bring the confidence of the last two years with them to do that."