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Tyrone eye new talent in quest for Sam glory

By John Campbell

Published 13/10/2016

Next level: Peter Harte feels Tyrone can step up after Ulster title win
Next level: Peter Harte feels Tyrone can step up after Ulster title win
Tyrone's Niall Sludden

The destination of this year's Tyrone Senior Football Championship prize has still to be decided, yet the focus has already switched sharply to the 2017 Ulster Championship.

Preparations are already underway for what manager Mickey Harte hopes will be a successful defence of the provincial title, but ahead of tonight's 2017 Championship draw there is a growing belief within the O'Neill County that replicating a feat last achieved in 2009-2010 will be extremely difficult.

Peter Harte, outstanding in the county's colours this year and the fifth highest scorer in the All-Ireland series overall from play during the summer, has lost no time in putting things into perspective as Ulster sides eagerly await to see how the dice falls tonight.

Tyrone won four trophies between mid-December and mid-July, but already there is a palpable desire within this football-mad county to see the side do even better next year and push on to lift the Sam Maguire.

"There is huge interest in the draw but it's very, very early to be speculating about just who will lift the Ulster title in 2017," muses Harte. "There is a lot of football to be played between now and then but from our viewpoint it's great that we are back in Division One of the league.

"This is very important because we think that this might help to put us in good stead to defend the Ulster title.

"Yet when you look around you see that Cavan have now got Mattie McGleenan in as their new manager, and you already know what Monaghan and Donegal are going to bring to the table, so you get an idea of the task we face.

"Then you take on board Peter McGrath's obvious desire to get what would be a first title for Fermanagh and you factor in the possibility of a surprise package or two so you understand just how difficult it will be in Ulster."

Long regarded as the most competitive of all the provincial championships, the Ulster flagship competition scaled a new peak in terms of passion and intensity this year when both semi-finals went to replays before Tyrone got the better of Donegal in the decider.

"We will see what the draw brings and we'll take things from there," says Harte.

"For ourselves, we have to take great heart from the progress that Niall Sludden and Conor Meyler have made since coming into the side this year.

"Then you look at boys like Kieran McGeary, Rory Brennan and other excellent young players, and you would have to say that the future is bright for Tyrone.

"These lads are coming through strongly, and then there are always one or two who maybe pop up out of the blue.

"The county championship replay between Killyclogher and Coalisland on Sunday next is another chance for players to showcase their talents and no doubt Mickey Harte will be running the rule over boys there again.

"A lot of club players in Tyrone will have looked at how the county team performed this year and maybe some of them will believe that they could emerge as the next Niall Sludden. I hope this proves the case as there is always room for quality players - you need a very strong squad in what will be a very competitive arena."

Confirmation on whether Sean Cavanagh will commit for another year is awaited and a decision in relation to this is expected shortly.

Cavanagh's vast experience, his passion for representing his county and his leadership skills can bolster the Red Hands as they not only seek to retain the Ulster crown, but make an impact in the closing stages of the All-Ireland series.

In the short term Cavanagh is likely to remain a first-choice player, yet his potential value as an impact substitute further down the line should not be overlooked.

And the decision of the Tyrone County Board not to grant Mickey Harte a further year's extension in his role could prove an extra spur as he bids to keep his side firmly on the provincial throne with the other counties waiting to take over.

At this particular moment in time, though, the long-serving triple All-Ireland winning boss remains in typically philosophical mood.

"We are where we are and we just have to get on with it," says Harte.

Belfast Telegraph

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