McMenamin sees a change of Harte to follow Dublin's lead
BACK when the two Tyrone boys were starting out, the Dr McKenna Cup meant something to them.
"When I was first brought into the Tyrone set-up, I didn't care what month of the year we were playing in, because you had a senior jersey on," recalls three-time All-Ireland medallist Owen Mulligan.
The novelty didn't take long to wear off, though: "Maybe as years go on you begin to get a wee bit complacent about your place. Myself and a couple of others, we liked to winter well, to enjoy ourselves in November and December!"
While staying trim was an annual struggle for Mulligan, the more spritely Ryan McMenamin would report ready for duty. For him, the battles of the McKenna Cup were mostly played in the head.
"Once you get your first game over, that thing of 'ach, McKenna Cup, wet days, sleet and rain'... once you get over that, you look forward to the rest of it. You would rather be playing football than running around a field," he says.
In Mickey Harte's first year as manager, Tyrone were beaten in the final by Monaghan in Brewster Park. Eleven years later, Harte returns to the Enniskillen venue for his 10th final, against Cavan.
Mulligan displays a forward's instincts when he explains the motivations of a debutant in January.
"It's early in the year, the shackles are off. Scoring points and a lot of goals is a great way of proving yourself. People are not going to remember the great defensive work you did, they will remember the great scores," he says.
McMenamin fears that physicality is going out of the game. "Tackling has seemed to go out of it. It's the type of football that maybe some people in Croke Park want; high-scoring. Players are afraid to tackle out the field for fear of a referee's reaction," he says.
If that is going to be the way of it, then Tyrone are blessed with enough firepower to be challenging strongly.
So far, Harte has not used a sweeper system. "It looks to me that he may not play with a sweeper this season. He will maybe go with a Dublin-type of formation," says McMenamin.
"Mickey seems to have changed philosophy from being ultra-defensive to having everyone attacking, especially from the half-back line. The legs seem to be there, the pace is there now. Whether that will stand up against the bigger teams, with better inside forwards, remains to be seen."
Mulligan sees the need to get back on the winner's podium, saying: "In Tyrone, people are almost blase about the McKenna Cup, but it's still a trophy. I think Cavan need a trophy, but there are a few Tyrone players that don't have a McKenna Cup medal and they will be thinking the same thing."