McGuinness pitting his wits against the master

Donegal and Tyrone take centre stage in the Ulster championship this weekend in St. Tiernach’s Park, Clones with a place in the final against Derry up for grabs. (Throw in 3.30pm)

Donegal and Tyrone take centre stage in the Ulster championship this weekend in St. Tiernach’s Park, Clones with a place in the final against Derry up for grabs. (Throw in 3.30pm)

It is also Donegal manager Jim McGuinness versus Tyrone’s Mickey Harte (pictured). The new kid on the block up against the master tactician and the man with the proven record.

It is generally believed that these two men and their selections and tactics will have as big an influence on the encounter as any of the 40 or so players that will take the field on Sunday afternoon.

Last weekend, Derry manager, John Brennan, received all the plaudits for his tactical shrewdness and was being hailed as having won the sideline battle with his Armagh counterpart Paddy O’Rourke.

Meanwhile a number of weeks earlier O’Rourke was seen as having won the tactical battle with James McCartan in the Orchard County’s shock victory over Down.

While it is ultimately down to the players and how they perform, the roles of Jim McGuinness and his number two Rory Gallagher and Mickey Harte and his second in command Tony Donnelly, will have a big influence. That is the way the modern game is going.

The prize for Sunday’s winners is an Ulster final showdown against Derry in Clones in three weeks, while the vanquished will be heading for the Qualifiers on Saturday July 9th.

With Frank McGlynn - who missed the quarter-final meeting with Cavan with a hamstring injury - flying fit again and all other minor knocks having cleared up Jim McGuinness reported a clean bill of health at the weekend.

All of which means for the first time this season the Donegal boss is in the happy position of having a fully fit squad and a first real selection headache.

With McGlynn fit again, the dilemma facing the Donegal boss this week is does he hold the Glenfin man in reserve and stick with the six defenders that started against Cavan.

However, given McGlynn’s form in the latter stages of the league, it will be hard to overlook his claims for inclusion. In the event of McGlynn getting the nod Paddy McGrath and Marty Boyle would appear to be the men under the most pressure.

Another option open to him and believed to be under consideration is moving Anthony Thompson to centre-half forward with either Boyle or Kevin Cassidy named at centre half-back.

With Tyrone expected to employ a sweeper in front of the Donegal dangermen of Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden, it would leave Thompson free to revert back to play as an extra defender.

Michael Hegarty is also thought to be in the running in the half-line of the attack flanked by Ryan Bradley and Mark McHugh, with teenage sensation Patrick McBrearty expected to join Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden in the front line of the attack.

While Leo McLoone returned against Cavan, when coming off the bench in the second half, the Naomh Conaill man may be held in reserve, but is a good bet to see action at some stage.

The Donegal boss is expected to name his team after training tonight (Thursday).

Regular full-back Justin McMahon and midfielder Aidan Cassidy are Tyrone’s major injury concerns. McMahon, who missed the latter stages of the league and the first round against Monaghan, is struggling with a hamstring injury while Cassidy injured his ankle in training.

However, McMahon’s brother Joe is fit again and is expected to make Mickey Harte’s starting fifteen. Kevin Hughes, who was only used as a replacement, is also fully fit again and is an obvious choice to join Sean Kavanagh in midfield if Cassidy fails to make it.

The Donegal team will overnight in the Slieve Russell Hotel, Cavan on Saturday night ahead of the final.

Sunday’s game is preceeded by the Ulster U-21 Hurling Shield final meeting of Donegal and Tyrone. (Throw in 1.45 pm).