Harte upbeat despite fears for injured trio
DESPITE the prospect of facing into Saturday's qualifier with Offaly without a host of his frontline stars, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte still expects his side to be standing when the All-Ireland quarter-finals come around.
Stephen O'Neill and Joe McMahon have emerged as major doubts for the Tullamore clash with Achilles and ankle injuries respectively, while Justin McMahon is also struggling to be fit with a hamstring complaint.
"They're major doubts at this stage," Harte conceded. "I would say Joe is the most doubtful, Stevie would be next and Justin would be the least.
"The three of them are under pressure at this stage. Justin has a hamstring problem which is a recurring thing and he's finding it hard to shake off. Whenever he plays intense football he finds it comes back at him so you have to manage that because if you go over the top on that then you lose him for a month or more.
"We'd be hopeful, but this week will tell a tale. They have missed out on last week's training so we'll see how this week goes. We'll not be able to be definitive on this until the weekend."
O'Neill's injury is a particular blow as the Tyrone captain looked to be returning to his best form and Harte (left) revealed the depth of his frustration. O'Neill has struggled for fitness since tripping over a ball and injuring his ankle during the warm-up before the league final.
"It's criminal – that's what it is. He was so good until the league final and then this freak accident before the final which counted him out and he's never got a run since," said Harte.
"He's had one niggle or another since then and has lost vital game time and training in the meantime. It's very unfortunate with the form he was in."
Harte is already definitely without the services of Dermot Carlin (broken nose) and free-scoring goalkeeper Niall Morgan (ankle) but is confident his side can bounce back from the defeat to Donegal and navigate the back-door route.
"If we don't believe we can get there then why would we bother playing any of the games? We have got to get back there and to do that we have to beat four other teams.
"And we'll do everything in our power to do that.
"When you get to the last eight it's definitely knock-out for everyone. People who come through as the provincial winners can often be vulnerable.
"I've said this before, it seems unfair that the people who win the province don't get a second chance.
"If they get caught cold on that day then they are history.
"It's a dangerous place for them to be and if a team comes through the qualifiers with momentum they are in as good of a position as a provincial champion at that stage."