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Tyrone kick off McKenna Cup against Saffrons.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Tyrone kick off McKenna Cup against Saffrons. thumbnail Mickey Harte and Tyrone begin the defence of their Dr McKenna Cup title with a season opener against Antrim at Healy Park this evening

TYRONE begin the defence of their Dr McKenna Cup title with a season opener against Antrim at Healy Park this evening (Wednesday).

It's the beginning of a campaign which brings high hopes of a big year for the Red Hands and another extended run in the All-Ireland series.

Manager Mickey Harte is expected to hand a handful of newcomers a chance to impress in the pre-season competition, which also sees group games against Cavan and St Mary's, both managed by Tyrone men, Mattie McGleenan and Paddy Tally.

He will field a team mixed with youth and experience as he bids to find the right formula with which to assemble a competitive side ahead of the National Football League, which begins at the end of this month.

Tyrone supporters will be glad to get back on the terraces and the Healy Park stand following a lengthy lay-off of more than four months since the last game, a painful All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin.

Omagh's McMahon brothers will no loner be part of the set-up, Joe and Justin having announced their retirements from inter-county football at the end of last season following long and distinguished careers.

And another notable absentee is last year's captain Sean Cavanagh, another retiree who owes nothing to Tyrone football.

Omagh defender Ciaran McLaughlin, one of four recent recruits to the squad, will be given his opportunity to impress, along with Brendan Burns of Pomeroy and Coalisland's Michael McKernan, all of whom have been called up by manager Mickey Harte after impressing with their clubs throughout the season.

Antrim, under new manager Lenny Harbinson, will travel to Omagh hoping to get their season off to a positive start, and they will be difficult opponents for a Tyrone side missing some experienced players.

But the Red Hands will be keen to secure an extended run in the pre-season competition, with a possible five games available to them.

And if they can go to the knock-out stages, it will help build momentum ahead of the league opener against Galway.

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