Mickey Harte preparing Tyrone for stiffest McKenna Cup challenge in many years
MICKEY HARTE says he’s preparing for his stiffest Dr McKenna Cup challenge in years.
Tyrone are going for a sixth successive title, but their manager has admitted they are under pressure to deliver, and couldn’t be in a tougher group. Donegal, Cavan and a star-studded Ulster University team have been thrown together with the holders in the ‘group of death’, and the Red Hands face a Breffni side managed by one of their own, former Tyrone star Mattie McGleenan, in Sunday’s opener.
“I don't think we'll get it easy to retain it, but that's the name of the game at this minute, we want to retain it, we want to play three competitive matches and then be in for a fourth and a fifth,” said Harte.
“That is our ambition and we'll always try to do that, and if we don't do it we'll be very disappointed. If we don't get the extra game, we'll be very disappointed.”
While Donegal are resting their more experienced players, Harte still expects every game to be a challenge: “When the draw was made, it was quite a tasty draw that we were in, with going to Cavan, and I think University of Ulster is the most equipped team to be in this competition.
“And Donegal, as people say, they may or they may not play their seasoned players, but even if they don't, they're still a formidable side. So to get out of the group will be a challenge, but I think we'll do our very best to get out of the group.”
Armagh's recent win over Tyrone in the Ó Fiaich Cup final demonstrated the level of preparation being made by teams even at this early stage and Harte expects others to follow a similar line of intent.
“If Armagh are after the Ó Fiaich Cup to the extent that they were, then I'm sure there will be plenty of counties after the McKenna Cup as well," he added.
“You can tell from that result that it won't be easy to retain the McKenna Cup. We want to retain it and our ambition is to play three competitive matches and then be in contention for a fourth and fifth. If we don't do get those extra games, then we'll be disappointed.
“The draw is quite a tasty one, what with going to Cavan, playing University of Ulster and Donegal, no matter if they do or don't field their full team. To get out of that group is going to be a challenge and we'll do our very best.”
Harte has named a strong 26-man squad for the Dr McKenna Cup campaign. He has opted to mix experience with youth, having included all six newcomers who were called up for the Ó Fiaich Cup.
And Sean Cavanagh has made a statement of intent that he has no intentions of playing a less prominent role in the season ahead by making himself available for the pre-season competition.
Two men who missed the entire 2016 season through injury, Conor Clarke and Niall McKenna, are named in the McKenna Cup panel. Both men have already made solid starts on their comebacks by playing two full games in the Ó Fiaich Cup at Crossmaglen. And the six new call-ups all did enough during the Ó Fiaich Cup to earn a place in the squad.
Defenders Ruairí Mullan from Cooksown, Michael Cassidy of Ardboe and Moy's Harry Loughran are included, along with Clonoe midfielder Declan McClure and attackers Cahir McCullagh from Greencastle and Ronan McHugh of Aghyaran.
TYRONE McKENNA CUP PANEL
N Morgan (Edendork), M O’Neill (Clonoe), A McCrory (Errigal Ciarán), L Brennan (Trillick), C Clarke (Omagh), T McCann (Killyclogher), P Harte (Errigal Ciarán), R O’Neill (Omagh), N Sludden (Dromore), P McNulty (Dungannon), P Hampsey (Coalisland), D McCurry (Edendork), S Cavanagh (Moy), H Loughran (Moy), J Munroe (Carrickmore), C McAliskey (Clonoe), M Donnelly (Trilllick), C Cavanagh (Moy), C McCarron (Dromore), M Cassidy (Ardboe), D McClure (Clonoe), C McCullagh (Greencastle), R McHugh (Aghyaran), N McKenna (Donaghmore), R McNabb (Dromore), R Mullan (Cookstown).