Sports

Red Hands seeking sixth successive McKenna Cup

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Red Hands seeking sixth successive McKenna Cup thumbnailMickey Harte is hoping to lead Tyrone to a sixth successive McKenna Cup title. PA0190MD

THE 2017 season is upon us, and Tyrone open their Dr McKenna Cup campaign with a trip to Kingspan Breffni Park to take on Cavan on Sunday.
The Red Hands are seeking a sixth successive title, but their dominance of the pre-season competition is in question, and they will need to post some high quality performances if they are to win a difficult group that includes Donegal and Ulster University.
All three of Ulster's NFL Division One teams have been drawn together in Group C, which promises to throw up an intriguing series of highly competitive games.
Former Tyrone star Mattie McGleenan will be looking to put one over on his home county as he takes his bow as the new Cavan manager this weekend.
And while he faces a team that has dominated the McKenna Cup in recent seasons, he will sense that the Red Hands are beatable, as evidenced by the O Fiaich Cup final defeat by Armagh a couple of weeks ago.
Both sides will be looking to unearth some fresh talent in preparation for their respective returns to the top division of the league next month, but there will also be a substantial involvement of experienced players.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has already handed opportunities to six newcomers, and they will be given more game time during the Dr McKenna Cup.
Harte will approach this pre-season competition with serious intent, given his desire to win every title he challenges for, but more important is the prospect of getting five competitive games ahead of the start of the league in February.
However, emerging from the group will not be easy, given the quality of opposition, with difficult games against Donegal and Ulster University to come, both at Healy Park.
The Red Hands will give everything in their bid to get the new year off to a winning start, and Harte is expected to field a team with a strong core of experienced players, along with a handful of new recruits.
But the manager accepts that this McKenna Cup group is the toughest he has faced for some time, and his team faces a big challenge in bidding for a place in the semi-finals.
“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," he said.
“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."
He expects to meet a strong Donegal side, despite the county's stated intention to use the their U21 team in the McKenna Cup, and believes Rory Gallagher will draft in some experienced players.
“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."
Most teams are getting themselves up to a high state of readiness, even at this early stage of the season, as evidenced by Armagh's recent win over Tyrone in the O Fiaich Cup final.
“If Armagh are after the O Fiaich Cup to the extent that they were, then I'm sure there will be plenty of counties after the McKenna Cup as well.
“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."
Tyrone McKenna Cup squad
Niall Morgan (Edendork), Mickey O'Neill (Clonoe), Aidan McCrory (Errigal Ciaran), Lee Brennan (Trillick), Conor Clarke (Omagh), Tiernan McCann (Killyclogher), Peter Harte (Errigal Ciaran), Ronan O'Neill (Omagh), Niall Sludden (Dromore), Padraig McNulty (Dungannon), Pádraig Hampsey (Coalisland), Darren McCurry (Edendork), Sean Cavanagh (Moy), Harry Loughran (Moy), Johnny Munroe (Carrickmore), Connor McAliskey (Clonoe), Mattie Donnelly (Trilllick), Colm Cavanagh (Moy), Cathal McCarron (Dromore), Michael Cassidy (Ardboe), Declan McClure (Clonoe), Cahir McCullagh (Greencastle), Ronan McHugh (Aghyaran), Niall McKenna (Donaghmore), Ronan McNabb (Dromore), Ruairi Mullan (Cookstown).

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