Belfast Telegraph

Tyrone's omission from O'Fiaich Cup baffling for Mickey Harte

By Declan Bogue

A brief history lesson. Pay attention and stick with us.

The O'Fiaich Cup is named after the late Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich, a native of the Crossmaglen area. The first year of competition was 1985 and sometime around the late '90s the tournament fizzled out and things came to a natural end.

By that stage, the local Rangers club were at the start of their domination of Armagh and would go on to rule Ulster and on a few occasions, Ireland. Crossmaglen had moved on, and the O'Fiaich Cup became something of a relic.

Played for by the counties within the archdiocese of Armagh, the parishes included a portion of Tyrone in Aghaloo, Errigal Ciaran, Beragh and Killeeshil, continuing up to Pomeroy, Termonmaguirc and Donaghmoyne, and eastwards to Dungannon, Eglish, Moy, to the loughshore with Ardboe, Clonoe and Coalisland.

Yet at Monday night's McKenna Cup press launch, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte expressed his surprise that nobody in Tyrone had been contacted or invited to take part.

Instead, the competition will comprise of Louth, Down, Derry and Armagh. This comes as a surprise to those that note that no area of Down is in the archdiocese.

"Nobody ever mentioned it to us. The first I seen of it was when I seen it in the paper that it was happening. I didn't even know it was an option," Harte told this reporter.

"I don't know who even was responsible for inviting people into it, I know nothing about it other than it is on and we aren't part of it. Whoever is organising it determined that they didn't want us in it anyway.

"We certainly would have considered it. It would have been useful," he added.

Given the pressure that comes on managers from the start of the season, it would most certainly have been useful. Armagh players used to joke that in its old format, the punishment for winning a McKenna Cup game was having to play another McKenna Cup game. That was in the old days of gathering up a team.

Nowadays it is a pressurised situation with swollen crowds. For the team, the chance of two extra games is at stake if you can secure passage from the group stages. For players, a place in the county National League squad can hang on your performances.

Headlines have been written in the past, believe it or not, questioning the future of managers after a couple of ropey performances in the McKenna Cup. The McKenna Cup!

Under those conditions, a poor 20 minute showing from a substitute could sink their future aspirations with the county team.

However, a few games and an extra month in the county set-up as part of the O'Fiaich Cup could allow a nervous debutant to grow more comfortable in their own skin in the dressing room and sharpen their decision-making skills.

And knowing how Mickey Harte has never played a challenge match before, he would recognise the value of such a tournament. No wonder he is perplexed at the Red Hands' exclusion.

Belfast Telegraph

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