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Red Hands begin Ulster title defence with eye firmly on the ball

By John Campbell

Tyrone playmaker Peter Harte has good cause to remember last year's Ulster Championship final, but by the same token he has also considerable reason to reflect on his team's later All-Ireland quarter-final defeat by Mayo.

It was a spectacular late long-range point from the elegant Harte that proved a key factor in delivering the Anglo-Celt Cup into the O'Neill county's hands for the first time in six years, and it was a score too that helped spark hopes of a possible fourth All-Ireland title triumph.

But, while the Red Hands reigned supreme in Ulster, they were to prove the authors of their own misfortune to a large extent when they confronted Mayo in Croke Park.

And, as he prepares to face Derry when Tyrone launch the defence of their provincial accolade tomorrow, Harte certainly won't be invoking excuses should they fall short.

Last year's chastening experience, he believes, proved another element in the Tyrone learning curve.

"I know people were suggesting that we missed the boat against Mayo and should have reached the All-Ireland semi-finals but the fact of the matter is that we simply did not perform well enough to beat them on the day," insists schoolteacher Harte.

"I think people were getting ahead of themselves and thinking that maybe we were sure of reaching the last four. Anyway, there was no reason for thinking that if we had beaten Mayo we could have gone on and beaten Tipperary.

"I honestly believe that people get ahead of themselves when they think like that."

Given this mindset, it's hardly surprising that Harte steadfastly now refuses to look beyond tomorrow's assignment against Derry at Celtic Park.

"I think it is worth remembering that Derry have some very good players. Don't forget, Slaughtneil came close to winning the All-Ireland club title, there are a number of experienced boys in the Oak Leaf squad like Enda Lynn and Benny Heron among others and it has to be borne in mind that this is a one-off game in which anything can happen," cautions Harte.

"Having said that our aim will be to turn in a big performance in the hope that this will bring us the result we want."

And, just as was the case against Mayo last year, it's certain that Harte will be taking a realistic view of the outcome.

"We did not play too well in the last three matches of the league, and we have been working on things like our goal-scoring since then, but really you can't look back at any game and say you missed the boat," stresses Harte. "The fact of the matter is you get your chance and you either take it or leave it."

Harte's influence within the Tyrone side is such that he has been an automatic choice ever since coming into the team and, in an era when players are taking their leave of inter-county squads with almost monotonous regularity, his personal philosophy makes for interesting listening.

"I think it is a privilege to represent your county and I consider myself to have been very fortunate in that in my career to date I have managed to avoid serious injury," points out Harte.

"Having said that I certainly do not take anything for granted. There are a lot of young players currently coming through in Tyrone who are certainly keeping the rest of us on our toes and I believe that they have a great deal to offer for the future."

Tomorrow, though, the Errigal Ciaran clubman's experience will complement that of Sean Cavanagh, Aidan MacCrory, Niall Morgan, Tiarnan McCann and Colm Cavanagh among others in a Tyrone side that are seeking to make it back-to-back Ulster titles.

"That's a big challenge by any standards in the modern game but I think there is a level of commitment and enthusiasm within the side which is encouraging going into the Championship. If we get a good result, that would be a big step forward," insists Harte.

Belfast Telegraph

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