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Harte urging Red Hands to show they've made strides

 

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has robustly rebutted the theory that his side will set about defending their Ulster Senior Football Championship title under a 'shadow' following the disappointments they experienced in the latter stages of the Allianz League.

The Red Hands took seven points from their first four games, a statistic which Harte maintains is being overlooked, with the emphasis instead being placed on his team's perceived below-par performances in their last three games.

"I don't think you can lay great weight on our last three games because in the middle one of those we served up one of our best performances of the year to date against Mayo," stated Harte.

"When you look at the three games overall, and you consider that Kerry and Donegal were our other opponents, it becomes clear that we were certainly not playing against Mickey Mouse teams.

"These have been three top sides over the last five or six years. It's easy to read too much into our closing league games but I prefer to think that across the whole seven games in the league we have to be content with what we achieved, which was securing our place in Division One and getting close to a place in the final."

As his squad continue their preparations for the mouth-watering clash with Derry at Celtic Park on May 28, Harte insists that his team have learned a lot from the league.

"I believe that things have worked very well for us and now we have to try and repeat them and add value to them," insisted Harte.

"At the same time, we have to look at the things that didn't serve us well. I am sure we will continue to do that and indeed we have been doing that.

"I think we can show in the Ulster Championship that we are a better, more mature side because of the experience we gained in the league.

"I would like to think in a couple of months I will be able to say, 'Look, there's what we have learned and that's how we have applied it'."

But while he is prepared to take what he sees are the positives from the league, Harte preaches caution in advance of the clash with Derry even though his side will be warm favourites to reach the semi-finals.

"The only game we are sure of in the Ulster Championship this year is this forthcoming meeting with Derry in Celtic Park," added Harte.

"We are very realistic on this front. Retaining the Ulster title is a huge ask, especially in the modern game, and it would be foolish for us to look beyond the last Sunday of this month."

The Red Hands boss, meanwhile, is continuing to monitor the fitness of midfield ace Declan McClure, who sustained a knee injury while assisting his club Clonoe in a league game at the weekend, much to Harte's frustration.

McClure has been impressive since his introduction to the team during the Dr McKenna Cup, and he is in line, if fit, to partner Colm Cavanagh in the Tyrone engine room against Derry.

Armagh also have injury concerns in advance of their Ulster Championship quarter-final on June 4 as it is believed Brendan Donaghy is still recovering from a broken thumb and Charlie Vernon has a leg injury.

Both players bring considerable experience to the Orchard County defence and they will be given every chance to make the cut for the eagerly-awaited Pairc Esler showdown in just under a month's time.

There is also some concern about former skipper Ciaran McKeever, who has been unveiling his skills in the attack recently having been a pillar of the defence for many years since leading Armagh to victory in the 2004 All-Ireland Under-21 final against Mayo.

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