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Flying start hailed by Tyrone boss Harte

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte was forced to absorb harsh lessons from the last two National Football League campaigns.

Red hot: Matthew Donnelly has been hugely impressive in Tyrone’s McKenna Cup run and will be key as they look for promotion in the National LeagueBY john campbell

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In each, his side started poorly and quickly found themselves out of the frame for promotion.

It’s no surprise then that Harte demanded a more positive launch to the current competition and having received an initial fillip via a win over Kildare last Saturday, the Red Hands boss is targeting a second victory over Derry within the space of a fortnight to ensure his side enters a three-week respite from the league in a considerable degree of comfort.

“I have already made it clear to the players that they will have to sustain the momentum they have established,” said Harte.

“We lost our first two in the league last year and while we won our remaining games it wasn’t enough to get us into Division One. This underlines just how difficult it is to make the step up.”

The notion that his side might have imploded following a raft of retirements has, of course, been emphatically dispelled.

Tyrone are unbeaten this year and what’s more their confidence is soaring to such an extent that Harte is now forced to keep a lid on expectations.

“It is still very early days. Obviously we are pleased to have won the McKenna Cup, but the season is still in its infancy,” said Harte.

“If we beat Derry it would provide us with a further incentive in our promotion bid, but you can take nothing for granted.”

If Tyrone’s results to date have been impressive, then some of the individual displays offered have bordered on the spectacular.

Owen Mulligan is in arguably the best form of his career, Peter Harte is a revelation in the unfamiliar role of centre-half-back, |P J Quinn is now one of the most efficient corner backs in the game and Matthew Donnelly is greased lightning when in possession.

Donnelly indeed along with his namesake Mark and Peter Hughes represents the new breed of Tyrone forwards who share one common aim — they believe in taking the shortest route to the opposition posts.

The super-fit, skillful Donnellys complement skipper Stephen O’Neill in a well-oiled Tyrone forward division.

“Players have come in and performed well, but there are big tests ahead. I said before the start of the league that Division Two

will be very competitive,” said Harte.

In contrast to the Red Hands’ stirring progress, Derry have been erratic to date, their morale now suspect following that McKenna Cup final reversal at Tyrone’s hands and the opening round league setback against Galway.

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The New Year may still be in its infancy, but yet again the GAA finds itself in the firing line from an irate public.

When the Dublin county board invited ‘The Rubberbandits’ to perform at Croke Park on Saturday as part of the entertainment programme in conjunction with the NFL double-header featuring Tyrone v Kildare and Dublin v Kerry, it was hoped that their appearance would help entice many young people to the games.

Since the weekend, the Dublin board and the GAA itself have come in for sharp criticism because of what one official described as the “offensive language” used by the band during their performance.

It is understood many fans were offended by expressions in some lyrics. Last night one official admitted that ‘The Rubberbandits’ had left “a bad taste in the mouth” with many parents outraged.

He added: “Some of the language used by some followers during both games was not much better than that used by the musical act. There is an element here of the pan calling the kettle black.”

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