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Tyrone must toughen up for Ulster battle: Harte

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is hoping that his defence will adopt a much more mean approach when his side set their Ulster Championship campaign in motion against Down at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday week.

Harte is concerned that the Red Hands have been much too generous of late, particularly in terms of conceding goals.

The malaise became rather more pronounced in the second half of the Allianz League and the Tyrone boss is anxious that what he views as a serious shortcoming can now be remedied.

“We have definitely leaked too many scores and we have to do something about that. In particular, conceding goals in the last few games has been a worry and I believe that if we can stem the goals then it will take a lot of points to beat us,” asserts Harte.

When Kerry dished out a sharp lesson to Tyrone, James O’Donoghue scored three goals in a man of the match performance, while against Dublin the Red Hands leaked two goals in the opening 70 seconds.

This kind of defensive fragility is alien to Tyrone who have invariably been noted for their tight marking, ability to deny opposition forwards time and space and penchant for mounting lethal counter-thrusts.

Latterly, the Red Hands have found themselves on several occasions consigned to damage limitation exercises and this is something that Harte does not want to see repeated in the championship.

“We cannot afford to concede too many scores. If you lose a goal in a championship match, that can have disastrous consequences and we have to make sure that we remain very focused defensively,” adds Harte.

The return of Justin McMahon would be a boost while the inclusion of Martin Penrose, even though he is recognised as an attacking force, would also provide Tyrone with someone whose solid tackling could prove a stumbling block to opponents.

Tyrone will be required to be on their best behaviour as speculation surrounding the application of the black card rule gathers considerable momentum.

There have been suggestions recently that referees are reluctant to implement this sanction, meaning that the equivalent of a blind eye is being turned.

“No team wants to lose a player to a black card and there is evidence to suggest that there is no uniformity in its application to date. The hope is that there is consistency during the championship.

“No player wants to be denied action because of inconsistent application of this rule and at the same time blatant offences cannot be allowed to go unpunished,” insists Harte.

And the triple All-Ireland winning boss bucks the trend to some extent by admitting that home advantage can certainly prove a factor in helping a team to surmount a championship hurdle.

Harte candidly admits that his team can derive benefits from playing at Omagh.

“This is our home ground after all. There is less travel involved for us and for our fans, we know the ground and the crowd at a home venue are certainly worth something in terms of lifting a team,” declares Harte.

“I’d rather be going to face Down at Healy Park than having to face them at Newry, that’s for sure. We want to stay in the Ulster championship as long as possible and any games we get at home we will happily take them.

“You have to have your phased goals and we knew from when the championship draw was made the run we have to go through if we want to get to the Ulster final.

“That’s well documented. That’s the route you have to go. If you don’t make it by that direct route, you have to adjust your thinking.

“In the other route we have been successful twice and we got to the All-Ireland semi-final last year so it’s something that will not daunt us.”

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