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Harte: It's important to consolidate our position as province's top side

 

By Declan Bogue

Dizzy with the performance of their team, the sunshine and another title in the bag, Tyrone fans were in no rush to leave the St Tiernach's Park pitch, not with all these endorphins bouncing around.

While players lined up for selfies and autographs, making children, family and friends happy, the last man off the pitch was Mickey Harte. His popularity transcends even that of his players.

He might do his best to play down expectations, but the kind of performances Tyrone have produced this summer puts them in the frame for Sam Maguire. Even though Harte mightn't have got a chance to shake the Anglo-Celt canister himself, that question was being put to him.

Are you thinking of Sam Maguire in September, Mickey?

"Not at all, I'm thinking Anglo-Celt - isn't that good? - and it means we're into a new competition, eight left when it's all sorted out," he replied.

And in continuing with answering the question, he lets a chink of light into his thinking. Tyrone's defeat to Mayo last year still stings.

"We fall too often in a quarter-final for our own good. We need to be very focused in what we're about and prepare for this quarter-final.

"It's an awful place to go out after you have just lost a quarter-final. It's not a place you want to be so we will be very focused for the next couple of weeks until we play that game."

Having not taken out a big name since that giddy season of 2008, Tyrone can said to have unfinished business in Croke Park.

"You got to Croke Park as Ulster champions and you don't win, that's unfinished business," he stated.

"That's a step at a time job. We want to be in a semi-final, that's our next challenge. That's all we can aim for but that's the one aim we have at this time. If we get there we'll be very happy to be in a semi-final.

"That's the challenge for us now. Win another game in the last eight and be in the last four."

He said all the usual nice things managers need to about vanquished opponents, Down: "They have improved in every game in the Ulster Championship and they came in with nothing to lose and everything to gain and they went about their business in the first half very intensely and very well.

"They missed a good goal chance which was a significant miss on our part and a good let off for us. They made it difficult. They let it slip a little at the start of the second half which meant they had to chase the game and that made them vulnerable."

For a couple of years now, the talk about Tyrone has been one of transition. Winning an Ulster Championship, and progressing by the margins they have, renders that notion irrelevant.

Tyrone have one of the finest defences in the game and conceded only 11 frees here, some of them extremely soft decisions too. Their attack continues to run up huge tallies. Any descriptions of them being in any way boring or defensive is not rooted in reality.

The question is, and put to Harte, do they have another gear or two to click into in Croke Park?

"The team has been maturing over the last couple of years and they are getting better. But we have to get better to do better than we have been doing.

"If the improvement is enough to bring us to where we want to go, time will tell. But we're pointing in the right direction.

"It's important to win games, win trophies and it's important to consolidate our position as the best team in Ulster."

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