Red Hands to the pump as Harte sweats on McNamee fitness
Tyrone will have their rearguard resources tested to the limit this Sunday, as Mickey Harte is set to be without his two most experienced defenders for their 'Super 8s' showdown with Donegal.
Cathal McCarron's season is over, and with a place in the All-Ireland semi-final at stake in Ballybofey, the Red Hands are facing the prospect of losing Ronan McNamee as well.
The Tyrone full-back hasn't trained since suffering a calf injury in the defeat to Dublin 10 days ago and Harte concedes McNamee is running out of time to recover.
"Ronan's injury is significant enough in that he didn't train there at the weekend and he's working on it. The physios are working on trying to reduce the swelling on the calf muscle," he said.
"If that progresses as well as it has in the last 48 hours, there's a good chance that he will be available, but that's not a certainty at all."
McCarron suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Super 8s opener against Roscommon at Croke Park, and is awaiting surgery.
Harte, however, lauded the attitude of the 32-year-old, and his determination to recover and return to the team.
"It's unfortunate that his injury turned out to be a bit more serious than first anticipated," said Harte. "That's life, and he is devastated but he's very philosophical about it as well. He just says, 'look, this is where it's at, you have to take whatever's coming, get it sorted out and roll up your sleeves and go at it again'.
"It's good that he's thinking about the future and not thinking that this is a career-ending injury.
"It's just something that he has to deal with right now, so I think that's a positive that he's thinking and speaking that way. But he won't be available to us this season anyway."
On the plus side, Lee Brennan - who ended the league as Division One's top scorer - is in line to make his first appearance since the Ulster Championship first-round defeat to Monaghan, during which he suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury.
The Trillick sharpshooter was in the match-day squad for the Healy Park clash with the Dubs, but the Tyrone supremo opted not to risk him.
"It's great to have another two weeks for Lee Brennan to be in a much better position than he was," explained Harte.
"Obviously, getting over the injury, not having played much football, it was a high risk factor, what could he get, or could he get anything out of that other game?
"So the way it turned out, we didn't feel it was worth risking him again. He's in a much better position now to have game time."
MacCumhaill Park will be rocking with a sell-out crowd installed for the most important championship meeting of these neighbouring counties since the '70s, when all championship games were sudden death, knock-out contests.
"We have met them in a few other places at different stages of the championship, in Ballybofey and in Clones at various stages, but we have never played a game of this significance and of this importance in their own back yard, so it is a serious challenge and a new challenge, and we're going to have to be at our best to get the result we want," said the three-time All-Ireland winning manager.
"It is definitely bringing the rivalry of the recent past to a new level, and this is the most important game we will face off in championship in my time, for sure, and probably well before that. It has caught the imagination of the general public.
"From the off, it looked likely that both of us would be vying for the second place. Everybody expected Dublin to win this group, and we probably both believed that with the experience we had in Division One, we should both be fit for Roscommon, and it turned out that way.
"So this was really the winner-takes-all game, and the fact that they have it at home, that's the one benefit that they have got as well as being Ulster champions, so we have to deal with that."
However, it is not quite a 'winner-takes all' game for Harte's men as they have a superior scoring difference to Donegal, which means a draw will be good enough for Tyrone to progress to the last four.