Harte defends call-up of college players

TYRONE boss Mickey Harte has defended his decision to include college players in his Dr McKenna Cup squad, rather than release them to play for their university teams in the pre-season competition.

The treble All-Ireland-winning manager insisted that if a young player wants to break into the Red Hand panel, he must be in a position to display his talents.

The Ulster Council has ruled that the colleges should have first call on players for the McKenna Cup, but Harte feels he must have access to all his prospective squad members for the season ahead.

He reasoned: “I understand they can play for the college by all means, but if we don’t see them first hand, and they don’t get to mix with our players, the season starts and they feel a bit out of it. So it is unfortunate for the colleges by all means, I can understand their plight.

“But at the same time, there are players we need to see, and we need to seem them in front of us.”

The Tyrone boss has injected some youthful talent into his new squad, including two members of the 2010 All-Ireland winning minor team, Omagh pair Ronan O’Neill and Conor Clarke.

And the newcomers have an opportunity to make their mark at the top level as the boss endeavours to fill the gaps left by the retirement of a host of experienced stars, such as Brian Dooher, Brian McGuigan, Enda McGinley, Philip Jordan and Ciaran Gourley.

“There’s a bit of necessity and a bit of experimentation as well,” he said of his squad selection.

“Life moves on, some players go out the other side, and we have to give other players a chance.

“And I’m delighted that there’s a new wave of enthusiasm about the squad.”

He compared the current process of transition to the situation in 2003, when he took over as manager and immediately introduced a raft of exciting youngsters to senior football, with a spectacular result — a first All-Ireland SFC title for the county.

“The young players are always good for a squad. It brings me back to 2003, when we brought in a whole lot of young lads. They came and joined the seasoned campaigners and I think it was a good cocktail to have. If we can conjure up anything like that again for this year, then we’ll take that.”

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