‘Irreplaceable’ Dooher rated 50-50 for Tyrone’s Ulster opener

MICKEY HARTE has rated Brian Dooher as 50-50 for the All-Ireland champions’ opening Ulster tie against Armagh on May 31.

The Clann na Gael player, this week named county captain for the sixth year in a row, has not played for Tyrone since September’s All-Ireland final because of a groin complaint but featured for his club last weekend.

Harte emphasised the importance of the skipper to the side yesterday by describing him as the rock on which all the county’s successes had been built.

“All you can say about Brian Dooher is that his enthusiasm is infectious. You couldn’t be around him on a team and be apathetic. You couldn’t be lazy and be on the same team as Brian Dooher because he would shame you into doing some work.

“That is what he is about and he is the same on the training field. It is not just something he produces on the day of a match. He would train nine days a week if there were nine days in it.

“If he has an injury, or can’t do everything in training, he does what he can with what parts of his body are available to him. What more could you ask for? It is just a pity that the clock is ticking on him. I wish he was 24 instead of 34. The man is irreplaceable.”

Harte was also able to report that there were no major injury concerns after the round of county championship fixtures last weekend and the update concerning Stephen O’Neill’s knee injury is equally encouraging.

The former Footballer of the Year has not featured since the opening NFL Division One tie against Dublin but he is expected to make the bench for the Armagh game and has not been ruled out as a starter.

Meanwhile, Down forward Benny Coulter, who is struggling to be fit in time for Sunday’s Ulster opener against Fermanagh because of a recurring heel injury. The complaint caused Coulter to sit out the Division Three final defeat against Tipperary last month but manager Ross Carr is giving little away.

“It would be naive of me to say he’s 100% but it would be wrong of me to say we’re not seriously considering playing him,” said Carr. “We won’t make the decision until Friday.”

The only man definitely ruled out of Carr’s plans for Sunday is Liam Doyle who missed the entire league while another long-term absentee, Ambrose Rodgers has returned to training. However, Jack Lynch and Kevin McKiernan, have both recovered from niggling leg injuries.

One man that definitely won’t be involved with Down this summer is Martin Clarke who opted for life in the AFL with Collingwood, but has suggested he may return to Ireland sooner rather than later.

Context being everything, it is worth pointing out that Clarke was speaking shortly after Collingwood had shipped an 88-point defeat to St Kilda and Carr isn’t expecting the youngster home any time soon.

“I stay in contact with Marty on a regular basis and he is just a great lad. I’m sorry he’s not here but it would be very narrow-minded of anybody not to wish him success where he is.

“If Marty decides to come home he doesn’t have to worry about whether we’ll take him or not. It’d be like the return of the prodigal son. Every calf in Down would be fatted up and put on a spit for him but that’s a decision that will entirely rest with him and his club Collingwood.”

Fermanagh are confident that captain Mattie McGrath will be passed fit for Sunday’s clash. The big midfielder had a recurring knee injury during the course of the league but has responded well to treatment.

Definitely out of contention however, is All Star full-back Barry Owens (cruciate ligament) while half-backs Peter Sherry and Damien Kelly are battling to be fit after suffering injuries in the latter stages of the league.

Louth, who take on Carlow in the opening round of the Leinster SFC at Parnell Park on Sunday, are hoping prominent midfielder Paddy Keenan will be given the all-clear to play.

Keenan has been sidelined with a torn hamstring but returned to club action at the weekend. Shoulder injury victim Derek Crilly also made his return last weekend and is in line for a starting position. Carlow will be without wing back Alan Curran, sidelined with a shoulder injury, but otherwise report a clean bill of health.

TYRONE SF panel: A Cassidy, B Dooher, B McGuigan, C McCarron, C Gourley, C Holmes, C Cavanagh, C McCullagh, C Gormley, D McCaul, D Harte, D Carlin, E McGinley, G Devlin, J McAnulla, J Devine, Joseph McMahon, Justin McMahon, K Hughes, M Penrose, M Swift, M McGee, N Gormley, O Mulligan, PJ Quinn, P McConnell, P Jordan, R Mulgrew, R McMenamin, R Mellon, S Cavanagh, Sean O’Neill, Shaun O’Neill, Stephen O’Neill, T McGuigan.

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