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Mickey keen to make fast start as Tyrone target cup

Harte hungry for four-in-a-row

By Declan Bogue

With Tyrone going for four consecutive Dr McKenna Cup titles, manager Mickey Harte believes that their attitude to the January series must remain as keen as ever. The competition, now sponsored by Bank of Ireland for the next three seasons, was launched in Belfast's Merchant Hotel last night.

Tyrone were placed in Group C, along with Harte's alma mater, St Mary's, as well as Armagh and Antrim.

Under Harte's watch, Tyrone have triumphed in the McKenna Cup - the traditional warm-up tournament ahead of the opening fixtures of the National League - no less than seven times.

It's certainly an incredible record.

Since he took over as Tyrone manager in late 2002, Harte has often cited his aversion to playing challenge matches, and as such he places more importance than most in wringing all the goodness out of the competition.

He will be taking the same attitude this time around, he admitted at last night's launch.

"It's got to be the same," Harte said.

"The National League starts before the month of January is even out. We are out on January 31.

"If you are not prepared for that then you are going to come up short," commented the Errigal Ciaran clubman.

"As much as you want to win the competition, you want to be in it as long as possible.

"We want competitive matches and it is the only place we will get them," he added.

"We put a lot of effort into getting into the knock-out stages all the while. It's happened most years for us and we hope to get to the knockout stages."

Tyrone suffered one of their earliest Championship exits under Harte this season, going out in the Round Two qualifier to Armagh on July 13, on a scoreline of 0-13 to 0-10.

"It's not a good place to be, it's a long time until now, when the McKenna Cup starts again," he continued.

He also believes that perception has a huge role to play in where Tyrone stand in the light of that Championship campaign.

"That's what happens sometimes," he explained.

"The rub of the green could have made a big difference to things.

"We could have got something out of the Monaghan game and that could have changed the course of the whole season.

"I'd say if Mattie Donnelly hadn't been sent off against Armagh, although we didn't play particularly well, it might have made a huge difference.

"We might have been able to hang in there - and look at what Armagh's season turned into.

"We could be looking back on a very different season just for the sake of one or two different moves.

"We could say we are far off the mark on one hand, on the other, you might think we are not that far off it."

One of the charges levelled against Tyrone, in comparison to other sides, has been a creeping suspicion that they were somehow lacking in the pace and power of the top-ranked teams such as Dublin, Donegal and Mayo.

Harte was keen to refute that though.

"I don't believe that it (Tyrone's perceived lack of power) is a case," he said.

"People can find all sorts of reasons to say why you are not successful.

"Go back to this strength and power thing again, when we go back to 2003, Armagh were supposed to be so much more physically stronger than us," he said.

"That was the whole beat on the street.

"But when I actually looked at it and looked at all our sizes there wasn't that much difference.

"A couple of pound of sugar wasn't going to knock you about the place.

"It's easy to pick a couple of things to say why other things happen. But I don't see life like that at all.

"The years that you do well and are successful you make plenty of mistakes but nobody notices them."

However, Tyrone have started a new chapter with former county player Peter Donnelly now in a full-time capacity as a strength and conditioning expert. Already, he has impressed Harte.

"Peter was working in Cavan for a lot of years and there were vibes coming out of that county because of what he did with the teams," Harte explained.

"He is a Tyrone man, he wants to be in Tyrone and we created something for him," he commented.

"He is bringing a new enthusiasm to it.

"Before, we had Willie Moore who did a great job but you had to programme him in and book him in from night to night.

"Now, you have complete access to Peter. Players can get him at different times of the day.

"I am really impressed with how he goes about his work and the enthusiasm he brings," he said.

"He loves what he is doing and you can see that in the man."

The McKenna Cup starts on January 4 with the final on January 24 - just one week before the Red Hands open their much-anticipated National League campaign.

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