Tyrone manager Harte ready to renew rivalry with his old foes
TYRONE like to put together winning streaks of the McKenna Cup. And should they defeat Cavan in tonight's decider in the Athletic Grounds, Armagh (throw-in 8pm), they will amass their second three-in-a-row of Mickey Harte's reign.
Since Harte took over as boss in late 2002, it also coincided with the McKenna Cup finding a suitable home as a pre-season tournament. They reached the final in early 2003, losing to Monaghan, but then collected the trophy in 2004, '05, '06 and '07.
They got back to winning ways in 2012, and successfully defended their trophy at the same venue as tonight's game when they punished some slack Monaghan defending in last year's final.
Altogether, this will be their 10th final in Harte's time, an astonishing feat.
The last time these teams met in the McKenna Cup was the 2011 semi-final, Tyrone winning 2-11 to 0-14. Harte definitely has the Indian Sign over Cavan during his time in charge – this will be the eighth time they have met, Tyrone winning six games and Cavan holding them to a draw in the 2005 Ulster semi-final only to receive a 21-point drubbing in the replay.
Interestingly, Tyrone's first-ever National title came against Cavan, under the managerial reign of Eugene McKenna and Art McRory in the league final of 2002.
Despite that shared history, Cavan and Tyrone have become somewhat unfamiliar in recent seasons with few meetings. It certainly presents a novel challenge for manager Harte.
"It's a new side for us to play, we haven't played them for a number of years now at this level," he said way back in the middle of January after beating Derry.
"They're an emerging team, they have three Ulster U21 titles behind them the last number of years. They did well in last year's qualifiers and they have declared they would like some silverware."
Both sides have had positives and negatives since the initial final was postponed and the National Leagues took centre-stage.
Tyrone allowed a seven-point lead to slip from their grasp against Derry in the league opener before following it up with a blistering display in beating Mayo.
Cavan got a similar lead against Fermanagh and although it began to unravel, they held out for a narrow win. They achieved maximum points from their two games to date by mastering Offaly the week after.
Harte put Tyrone's form into perspective, saying, "I think it's been encouraging that we made good progress last year given that we made a fair degree of transition within our team and I think that transition has continued a bit this year and we are doing ok so far.
"People say it's only January, it's only the McKenna Cup, but at the same time it's good to be showing good form, I don't care at any time of the year or against any opposition, I like the players to show good form. I think to date they have been showing decent form."
However, there may be some doubt over some of the Red Hands players who had been named to start the original fixture. Barry Tierney, Mattie Donnelly, Ronan O'Neill had all been named, but they, along with Connor McAliskey, may just be saved for the Sigerson weekend when they line out for University Ulster Jordanstown.
TYRONE: N Morgan; A McCrory, C Clarke, B Tierney; C McGinley, P Harte (Capt), T McCann; N McKenna, D McBride; P Kane, S McGuigan, PJ Lavery; P McNeice, Matthew Donnelly, R O'Neill
CAVAN: C Gilsenan; J Hayes, R Dunne, K Brady; P Tinnelly, A Clarke, J McEnroe; T Mooney, D Givney; M Reilly, N McDermott, M Lyng; C Mackey, K Tierney, E Keating