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Red Hands are looking to rekindle heady, glory days

Gaelic Games

By John Campbell

The dawn of 2015 could render a seven-year itch more pronounced in Tyrone.

Not since 2008 has the Sam Maguire Cup resided in Tyrone and given the Red Hands' track record since Mickey Harte took over as manager late in 2002, this constitutes something of a famine.

But now Harte and county board chairman Ciaran McLaughlin have combined to issue a clarion cry that could yet see the team rekindle the glories sampled in the 2003-2008 period in particular.

A battery of fresh talent, the decisive initial impact being made by new strength and conditioning coach Peter Donnelly, imminent confirmation of a fresh sponsorship deal in the wake of the recently-brokered financial partnership with Bank of Ireland and the hope that veterans such as Conor Gormley and Joe McMahon will still commit to the cause, all serve to give rise to a new wave of optimism.

Chairman McLaughlin, while admitting that Tyrone has endured frustration in recent seasons, makes it clear that a positive approach is underpinning all elements of preparation for the 2015 campaign.

"Obviously we are re-building but the signs are very good," insists McLaughlin.

"When you look at the quality of players we have in the side who have been gaining rapidly in experience and then think of the kind of players we have waiting in the wings to get the chance, it certainly provides great encouragement going forward."

McLaughlin points to the fact that both Conor Clarke and Darren McCurry will celebrate their 23rd birthdays next year while Ronan O'Neill is still only 21.

"I think it is generally recognised that these are three quality players who look capable of enjoying lengthy tenures in the Tyrone jersey," he explains.

"Then you have boys like Mark Brady from Killyclogher, Conor Meyler from Omagh and Dwayne Quinn from Clonoe who have been making waves at club level and look capable of stepping up to inter-county level."

While the All-Ireland title has been conspicuous by its absence since 2008, the Ulster title has not been captured since 2010.

Significantly Donegal have proven to be Tyrone's nemesis in the competition of late. They beat the O'Neill County in the quarter-final last year and in the semi-finals in 2012 and 2011.

The emergence of Donegal and Monaghan in particular as potent forces has transformed an Ulster landscape that was dominated by Tyrone and Armagh for 10 years from 1999.

"Time moves on and brings changes. You have to be ready to cope with new challenges and we are now laying our plans carefully for 2015," maintains McLaughlin.

Manager Harte, meanwhile, is already seeing the benefits that Peter Donnelly is bringing in his role as strength and conditioning coach. It is understood that players have been issued with individual programmes and with collective training in full swing again, considerable emphasis will be placed on physical fitness and stamina in 2015.

Harte is fully aware of the demanding tests that lie ahead for his team but the recent form of players such as Mattie Donnelly, Colm Cavanagh, Barry Tierney, Joe McMahon, Conor Grugan, Sean Cavanagh and Ronan O'Neill serve to bolster his belief that 2015 can bring renewed success.

But this belief is strongly flavoured with realism.

"When you look at Division One of the league, it's probably the strongest it has ever been which means that there is going to be an awful lot of hard work to be done before we even get near the championship," stresses Harte.

"We will be going into the Dr McKenna Cup next month seeking to make it four in a row in terms of triumphs and then the league starts very early next year so people really will be focussed now earlier than they might have been in the past.

"Gone are the days when teams could make a tepid start to the season - I think that everyone likes to hit the ground running now," he adds.

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