By Michael McMullan
ALL-IRELAND winning goalkeeper Pascal McConnell feels his former Red Hand manager Mickey Harte’s new role as Derry boss will add extra spice to Sunday’s National League showdown between the great Ulster rivals.
Speaking for a preview on the Gaelic Lives podcast, McConnell is expecting an electric atmosphere in Celtic Park this weekend.
He is also encouraged by the Tyrone newcomers’ progress after Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher handed out six debuts last weekend in their 0-17 to 1-11 win over Roscommon.
McConnell, who played under Harte at minor, u-21 and senior level for Tyrone, feels his former boss will treat Sunday’s clash as merely business.
Harte stepped down as Tyrone manager after 18 seasons at the helm.
Since then, alongside right-hand man Gavin Devlin, he made progress with Louth before his shock U-turn to take over as Derry manager.
“It will feel strange, there is no doubt about it and it is still strange from a Tyrone perspective that he is managing Derry but it is what it is,” McConnell said.
“Mickey is his own man at the end of the day. He has a job to do in Derry and that’s what he is there for.
“Mickey, being Mickey…Mickey is a winner and he’ll be approaching this game no different to any other with any other team he has managed.
“It will be a bit surreal and the media will pump it up that wee bit more and it will add that bit of spice.”
McConnell feels it will only add to a rivalry that has stood the test of time in all competitions.
Derry were one-point winners over Kerry in Tralee and the former ‘keeper was impressed with what he saw from Tyrone against Roscommon.
He commented on the attacking addition Darren McCurry will bring and feels Conn Kilpatrick’s availability would be a major factor if the Edendork man’s appeal against Sunday’s red card is successful.
“There were some nice performances by some of the Tyrone men,” he said, also referring to some of the narrative that relegation was on the horizon.
“Darragh Canavan, with eight points at the weekend, has continued on his form. You had young Ben Cullen there who acquitted himself really well, a real work horse and got his Tyrone stint off to a flyer.
“You had young Ciaran Daly of Trillick with three points from play. With the return of Darren McCurry, so if Darren can make an appearance it will give us a bit more artillery up front.”
Looking forward to Sunday, McConnell feels both teams’ approach could lead to a low-scoring encounter.
“It’s a game that could get very defensive,” he said. “We know the two styles that Derry and Tyrone put out there so it may not be the highest scoring game.
“Both teams have been working on attacking and breaking at pace, so that may be a factor as Celtic Park is a tight field.”
Since winning a fourth All-Ireland title in 2021, Tyrone haven’t reached the same heights but McConnell feels it’s a short term situation.
“It does give you great optimism that these young lads will come through, develop physically and get that bit of experience under their belt. Hopefully in the next few years we’ll be back competing at the highest level again.”