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Harte hasn't given up hope of his Red Hands sneaking into the showpiece final

Tyrone v Kerry, NFL Division One: Killarney, Sunday, 2.00 pm

By Declan Bogue

There is simply too much to play for to make tomorrow's final clash of the regulation league campaign against Kerry a 'dead rubber' encounter, insists Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.

Kerry's place in Division One next year is a virtual certainty. The circumstances required for their relegation is for Cavan to beat Roscommon by 27 points and Mayo to lose to Donegal.

But if Tyrone win in Killarney, along with Mayo winning at home to Donegal and Dublin overcoming Monaghan in Clones, then it would propel the Red Hands into their first league final since 2013.

That hope was sustaining Harte in the wake of their disappointing home defeat to Mayo, in which his side hit no fewer than 15 wides and dropped three shots short.

"There are a few bits and pieces of mathematical reasons that could work out and you could still make it, depending on who does what," he said.

"What we need to do is to figure out what we need to do to give ourselves a fighting chance. Who knows?"

Besides, there is always a subtext when Kerry meet Tyrone in the league. Two years ago, the Kingdom came up to Omagh and relegated their opponents by nabbing a draw. The most damning statistic of that day, however, was the free count, the Kerry men fouling Tyrone a total of 34 times to 14; a cynical exercise in cutting out counter-attacks before they get a chance to develop.

The year before that they met in Killarney and Kerry wiped the floor with the visitors, James O'Donoghue scoring a hat-trick of goals past Niall Morgan in a 22-minute spell.

Tyrone's task has been made much more difficult given that Mattie Donnelly has landed a one-game suspension arising out of events at the final whistle in the defeat to Mayo, and Ronan McNamee is injured with a broken bone in his hand.

Looking ahead to May 28 and Tyrone's Championship opener away to Derry, Harte added: "So, it's the last game before the Championship, and if anybody feels that it is a dead rubber then I think we are in the wrong place."

Elsewhere in the top flight, Monaghan can make it to their first National League final in 31 years if they can end Dublin's 35-game unbeaten streak in Clones.

Should Cavan beat Roscommon, Mayo lose to Donegal and Kerry at least draw with Tyrone, then they would be safe, having beaten Mayo in the head-to-head.

Division Two has been a graveyard for Ulster sides this season, and at least one will fall through the trapdoor into the third tier.

Two of those hoping to avoid the drop, Fermanagh and Derry, clash in Brewster Park tomorrow.

Both teams have lost key players to their cause this season. For the home side, the retirements of defenders Niall Cassidy, Marty O'Brien and Damian Kelly has been reflected in their awful defensive showing, with 10 goals conceded in this campaign.

That statistic is even worse for Derry, with 11 goals leaked. The return of the Slaughtneil contingent should considerably shore up a defence that kept a clean sheet against Cork, but shipped no fewer than 20 points.

Cork's mini-revival after their draw with Meath continued last week with victory over the Oak Leafs in Celtic Park. Should they beat Down tomorrow, it means Ulster stand to have a potential four teams in Division Three in 2018. Eamonn Burns' side have fallen to consecutive defeats to Kildare and Galway after arresting an early-season slump.

However, with Cork having nothing to play for, the Mournemen will be hopeful of showing up on Leeside and gaining an unlikely couple of points, thereby saving their Division Two status.

Promotion to the second flight is the prize at stake in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh tomorrow. Opponents Tipperary lie a single point behind in the table while Louth secured their promotion last week. Kieran McGeeney will hope to win his second promotion with Armagh.

Antrim are at the other end of the table and have Longford in Corrigan Park, another side on four points. With Offaly and Laois also on four points and facing off, the two losers will go down.

Belfast Telegraph

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