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I’m still as hungry as ever, says Tyrone boss Mickey

By John Campbell

Mickey Harte has overseen the capture of three All Ireland titles, a handful of Ulster Championship honours and numerous individual accolades since taking over as Tyrone manager eight years ago.

But far from diluting his hunger for more success his track record merely serves as a catalyst for additional triumphs. And in this respect Harte is strongly focussed on achieving one particular goal.

“It would be very pleasing to land back-to-back Ulster titles. That’s not something we have done since I have been in charge but I now feel we have a reasonable expectation of maybe getting there this year. Having said that there are three very good teams along with us left in the field and anything can happen,” reflects Harte.

As the countdown continues to Saturday’s eagerly-awaited semi-final against Down at Casement Park, Harte makes it clear that his team’s litany of glories spanning recent years will give them “no great advantage” going in against James McCartan’s side.

“Down showed against Donegal that they have a lot of skill and character. Let’s not forget the pace and stamina they showed in extra-time, too. No, this Ulster title is very much in the melting pot and it would be a very foolish person who would be taking anything for granted. Look at the way Monaghan beat Armagh and the efficiency which Fermanagh showed against Cavan last week-end,” points our Harte.

While unpredictability has tended to underpin the Championship series to date Harte remains convinced of one element which he feels is applicable to all four sides left in the title run-in.

“I believe that the four teams have scope for further improvement and naturally we all think we have more in the tank,” says Harte.

“We are looking no further than Down who showed in getting promotion to Division One in the National League that they not only have a squad of good players but that they have a great attitude.

“They are obviously very thirsty for an Ulster title and that’s understandable. From our perspective we would like to win Ulster for two reasons — one is that it would mean we would get back-to-back titles and the other is that we would avoid the Qualifiers,” explains Harte.

The loss of Aidan Cassidy from midfield because of a dislocated ankle and the ongoing absence of Ciaran Gourley and Damien McCaul casts a shadow over Tyrone’s preparations but Harte is now challenging his players to prove that their dismal National League form — they were relegated to Division Two — has now been firmly put on the back burner.

And if some results in the Championship to date have surprised many people, Harte is not necessarily numbered among those.

“I made the point at the outset of the Championship that it’s much more of a level playing field in Ulster now — when the draw for the Ulster Championship was made we were in Division One and Antrim were in Division Three. Now we’re both in Division Two. The gap has narrowed and I suppose that while you could say that Tyrone have been up there as one of the top sides of the past few years that in itself is an incentive for other teams to take us down. Down will surely see it this way, I imagine,” adds Harte.

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