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Dr McKenna Cup: Tyrone gear up for relegation battle

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is in no doubt about it — victory over Antrim in next Saturday night’s vital Allianz Division Two tie at Healy Park, Omagh is essential if they are to retain their second tier status.

Having watched his side lose their third game in four outings by being pipped by Derry in the McKenna Cup final at the week-end, Harte is now more firmly focused on league rehabilitation.

“No points after three games mean that a team is definitely staring at relegation.

“We ourselves were happy to get our win over Sligo but there is a very thin line dividing success and failure in the National League. Results from any one round of fixtures can have a huge bearing on the make-up of divisional tables,” insists Harte.

One point separates the four teams in the bottom half of the table with Tyrone and Antrim occupying the relegation spots.

“We were obviously disappointed to lose to Derry again and now we must try and atone for that by showing a big improvement in the league,” says the Red Hand boss.

If Harte is preparing to absorb pressure, then his Derry counterpart John Brennan candidly admits that even though his side has only lost one competitive match this year they still face a very stiff challenge if they are to attain Division One status.

While Brennan is happy to see the McKenna Cup take up residence in the Oak Leaf County, he has his sights on much more meaningful silverware.

“We came in for a lot of criticism following our defeat to Laois and we have had to live with that.

“While it’s great to get a bit of silverware it’s also very important that we kick on from here. We want to win promotion and then maybe make an impact in the championship,” said Brennan.

Derry travel to face Sligo on Sunday knowing that victory could provide a further spur in achieving their target.

“This McKenna Cup win should help us get back to winning ways. We cannot afford to lose any more ground in the league as we have some important games coming up. But we have more players back now and competition for places will be stepping up,” explains Brennan.

As things stand there are three Ulster sides — Down, Armagh and Monaghan — in Division One but with the latter two already confronted by relegation worries, there are fears that the province’s representation in the top bracket could be markedly trimmed.

Unless that is two from Tyrone, Derry, Antrim and Donegal ultimately make the jump up from Division Two.

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