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Pressure still a major driving force for Mickey Harte

By Declan Bogue

Entering his 14th season as Tyrone manager, Mickey Harte maintains that the pressure is as great on him now as it was on the night he took the job in late 2002.

The Red Hands get their 2016 under way on Sunday with the visit of Queen's to Healy Park in the McKenna Cup. Twelve months ago there was uncertainty over how secure Harte was in his position as he entered a season for the first time without a safety net guaranteed by the county board.

The Errigal Ciaran man pointed out: "Pressure is always there. If you are doing well, pressure is there. If you are not doing so well, the pressure is there too.

"If you are in this business of trying to win games at senior inter-county level, then pressure comes with the territory. From my part, that's good. People who perform well under pressure are good people to have around you."

In 2015, a revival in fortunes through the backdoor after relegation to Division Two, followed by another Ulster Championship loss to Donegal, climaxed with a gutsy showing in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kerry. That bought Harte another two years, starting on Sunday.

Although it is 'only' the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, which would be down the priority list of many supporters, Tyrone have an incredible appetite for football in January.

It's hard to believe, but they are going for their fifth title in a row, aiming to break their own record from 2004-2007. Under Harte, they have won it eight times in his 14 seasons.

He insists that their approach is always the same - get out of the group stages to get more games in the semi-finals and final.

"It's important to get the two extra games," he explained.

"If you enter a competition, you enter it to win it. We have given our best in the McKenna Cup over the last 12 or 13 years. We have no intention of doing anything different this year.

"We like to win trophies. Some people may think that these trophies are not that big to win, but I would rather be winning trophies than not winning any."

In facing Queen's on Sunday, some would say that the Red Hands are breaking into the season gently.

Despite a ferociously-fought but ultimately unsuccessful final that went into extra-time against Donegal in 2009, Queen's and the other colleges - UUJ and St Mary's - haven't had a major impact since being brought into the competition.

Harte is taken nothing for granted against the Malone Road men, especially with James McCartan back as manager and Martin Clarke in their squad.

"I wouldn't say that anybody is easy because everybody is out to do the best they can. They probably have their eye on the Sigerson competition and they want to be the best they can be in that. They are going to give their best and I would take everybody as seriously as the next," said Harte.

"It's about our preparation, about how we prepare for the game, the attitude we bring to the game that will determine how well we can do, regardless of the opposition.

"We will be looking for performance, performance, performance, and if we can achieve that, the scoreboard and results will take care of themselves."

Tyrone will get another look at Derry the following Sunday. Having already met and beaten the Oak Leafs in December's O'Fiaich Cup, the cross-Sperrins rivals will also meet in Division Two of the National League, before their Ulster Championship quarter-final in the summer at Celtic Park.

Belfast Telegraph


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