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Red Hands are out to keep their proud record intact

By Declan Bogue

When it comes to analysing stats involving Tyrone, it pays to exercise a little extra caution. The average reign of an inter-county manager used to be around the three-year mark, but such is the increased workload and demands now, that has been whittled down to two.

Antrim's defeat of Laois last weekend made Tomás ÓFlaherta the first football managerial casualty of the season and it would seem that his two-year term will become the norm for most managers, especially those fighting against the weight of tradition.

So when you come to analysing win-loss ratios or picking out stats, Mickey Harte's 14-season reign over Tyrone has to be treated as a special case.

However, they have one record they might choose to highlight as the Limerick team coach travels north to Healy Park tomorrow (throw-in 4pm). In all of Harte's time, Tyrone have never lost the first round in the qualifiers.

In purely qualifier terms (excluding the re-entry into the All-Ireland series at the quarter-final point), Tyrone have played 21 matches. They have won 17, drawn once and lost three.

Considering Harte has amassed four Ulster titles out of eight attempts, the Red Hands have got back to the All-Ireland quarter-finals five times.

In the early years of the new system, Tyrone were among those who found it difficult to acclimatise. In its introduction year in 2001, they had already beaten Derry in an Ulster semi-final on their way to a provincial title and had done their share of gloating.

It came back with interest when their cross-Sperrins rivals returned to beat them in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Former Red Hands ace Brian McGuigan recalled the slack atmosphere around the squad prior to their narrow win over Wexford a year this week: "I would always flag that one up as the stand-out example of a Tyrone team who weren't focused on the game.

"I remember us arriving at the ground, (then joint-manager) Art MacRory having to come back onto the bus to tell us to get off, and us telling him to hold on until we'd finished playing cards."

The three defeats in Harte's time came when Laois caught an injury-ravaged panel still in the grip of an All-Ireland hangover in 2006, the famous defeat in Killarney to Kerry in 2012 and last year's surrender to Armagh.

But still, they have never fallen at the first hurdle. That takes incredible levels of concentration and resourcefulness in keeping panels together after the inevitable self-doubts that arise when you are beaten in Ulster.

Those who point towards the departures of around half a dozen fringe players after the league campaign as evidence that this Tyrone side is crumbling are fooling themselves.

The talent that has come into the panel is arguably more unpredictable and dangerous and shakes up an outfit that might have threatened to go stale.

When Darren McCurry first came into the Tyrone panel in 2012, he had a serious impact and there is every chance that the likes of Mark Bradley, Lee Brennan and Richie Donnelly could achieve something similar.

Tyrone's performance against Donegal in Ballybofey gives them hope for a longer summer. They will get over this one first.

TYRONE: M O'Neill; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R McNabb, Justin McMahon, P Harte; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; T McCann, R O'Neill, R Brennan; D McCurry, S Cavanagh (C), C McAliskey.

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