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Derry is as tough a start as Tyrone could have been handed in title defence: Harte

By Declan Bogue

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte insists their defence of the Ulster Championship in 2017, which begins in Celtic Park against Derry, is set up for the ultimate ambush.

The two teams met at the same venue on May 22, and Tyrone had little problem in dismissing their rivals from across the Sperrins on a scoreline of 3-14 to 0-12.

It was actually the fifth time they had beaten Derry in a matter of months.

"The history we had with Derry last year, they still will want to get back at us," Harte told the Belfast Telegraph last night.

"They will still believe they under-performed in the Championship, and the fact that they are back again in Celtic Park, they will feel they have to redress the balance.

"So I think there is going to be a challenge there."

After a promising start to Damian Barton's tenure, Derry's form dived during the league. They were well beaten in Ulster and then downed in a qualifiers thriller against Tipperary.

Since then, it has emerged that a number of crucial players and leaders may not be available for county football in 2017, but Harte is not completely sold on that concept.

"I am sure that by the time Championship comes around, maybe a lot of men who have left temporarily, I don't expect them all to be away come Championship time next year.

"I think that's a bit of a red herring to think that Derry are in free-fall. I don't believe that for a minute," he said.

"That's as far as we can look. Up until we went up to Celtic Park this year, it was mooted that it was a place that Tyrone had never won an important game in," he said.

"Having won one game there this year doesn't give us any license to say we are looking forward to going."

Should Tyrone negotiate their quarter-final, they could be in line to face Donegal - who are drawn at home to Antrim - in an Ulster semi-final, which would be a sixth meeting between the two in seven years.

Harte acknowledged the claustrophobic nature of the Championship, stating: "It's been very regular who we have to encounter and, if we progress, who we are likely to encounter.

"There is a familiarity about that alright.

"It's good not to be in the preliminary round. Nobody wants to be in the preliminary round because it just adds another game. It's a dangerous enough place to be.

"Second thing, you would like a home draw.

"We are not in the preliminary round, we don't have a home draw, but then again, at least we are not away to any of the big two of the last four or five years, which has happened to us a few times over the last few years," he added.

Elsewhere, Down were granted a rare home draw in the Ulster Championship when they were matched with neighbours Armagh, while Fermanagh are in the preliminary round for the third year running, drawn to face Monaghan in Clones.

Cavan await the winners of that one.

Belfast Telegraph

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