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Sunday 17 December 2017

Harte's on guard to face 'Connolly-plus'

Returning Dub bigger threat now than in 2011

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte, pictured during a press conference at the Tyrone Centre of Excellence in Garvaghy yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Tyrone boss Mickey Harte, pictured during a press conference at the Tyrone Centre of Excellence in Garvaghy yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Six summers ago, Diarmuid Connolly destroyed Tyrone with a sublime 0-7 from play.

But he wasn't the same player then that he is today: he had yet to acquire the same imposing physique and power.

"I think he's a Connolly-plus now from 2011," warned Mickey Harte yesterday.

Harte doesn't profess to know whether Jim Gavin will start Connolly now that his 12-week suspension will have lapsed when Dublin and Tyrone square off in eight days' time.

But he knows this: his ­players must be prepared for all ­eventualities and that includes Connolly from the throw-in.

The veteran manager was speaking at Tyrone's training centre in Garvaghy ahead of his team's All-Ireland SFC semi-­final in Croke Park next Sunday.

Harte has engaged in a series of close league encounters with Gavin's Dubs, resulting in one-point wins for either side and a brace of more recent draws.

But he hasn't pitted his tactical wits against the Sky Blues since that quarter-final in 2011, when the latter delivered their finest SFC display under Pat Gilroy and Connolly one of his best ever 70 minutes. The final scoreline read 0-22 to 0-15; in truth, Dublin should have embellished that with three goals.

Cue the obvious question as to how much Connolly will feature in Harte's thinking now.

"Obviously you would be a fool to dismiss the influence that Diarmuid Connolly can have on any game - and has had over many years," he answered.

"He's absolutely a quality player, and has developed even into a better player than he was than when he first came on the scene, where he had all the natural talent and skill and ability. But he's a powerful player now along with that as well.

"Jim Gavin will decide how and when we see him, and in what context. So I really can't say much about the detail, but I know for sure that he's certainly a strength that Dublin didn't have in their games since he got that [suspension]."

Harte is particularly wary of Connolly's ability to nail long-distance points - the most direct way to bypass Tyrone's defensive blanket.

"With either foot he can kick the ball over from 45-plus yards. So, yes, that is a serious weapon to have in your armoury. And yes, he is as good as anybody at doing that," he acknowledged.

As for his memories of 2011, Harte added: "We always knew that he was a very talented player. You just see some players and you know they've got all the skills.

"A two-footed player who's comfortable on either side. And physically an imposing person as well; he's not sort of a small guy. So he's got a lot of the attributes that you would love to have in a player ... all that natural talent and ability, size and power for the modern game.

"And probably at that stage he hadn't developed as much power as he has now. So I think he's a Connolly-plus now from 2011, which means that we've got to be very careful!"

Harte is already looking forward to the special atmosphere invariably generated by Croke Park championship collisions between these arch-rivals.

"The energy that you get from an All-Ireland final is always present when you play the Dubs when they're in good form - and they're in good form this last number of years," he highlighted.

"I remember back in 2005 when we were maybe eight points up at one stage and the Hill got behind Dublin - and I've often described it as they almost sucked the ball over the bar five times to get us back to three, until we got that other goal to take the heat off again.

Energy

"They have that power. There is an energy that comes off the crowd whenever a player or a group of players do something good. I don't know how it happens, it's almost like an orchestra, it just rises, the tempo rises, and everybody feels 'There's something special happening here'. It mightn't be that special to look at, but there's just an energy about it."

Harte has declared a clean bill of health, with Colm Cavanagh recovered from the bang to his hip that ended his quarter-final against Armagh. Connor McAliskey, coming back from a cruciate injury, remains his only long-term casualty.

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