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Tyrone boss Mickey Harte: We have to push on and keep building

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, never one to allow the grass to grow under his feet, is warning his team that their progress this year guarantees them nothing in 2016.

While the Red Hands are already being freely tipped to remain a major force in football, Harte stresses that even winning the Ulster title could prove a difficult task.

And he makes it clear where he believes the main challenges to his rejuvenated team will come from.

"I would not jump to any conclusions about our performances this year. Two months ago it wouldn't have been assumed that we would be in an All-Ireland semi-final, would it?" pointed out Harte.

"Monaghan have looked like the team on the rise and they were challenging Donegal's supremacy, while Donegal themselves reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals. It would be a bit pre-emptive to suggest that these two teams might not be serious contenders in Ulster again - and indeed further afield - next year."

Harte's assessment is backed up by the Ulster Council's Director of Public Affairs, Ryan Feeney.

"I honestly believe that any county is capable of winning the Ulster title as things stand," insisted Feeney.

"There are people who will point to what they feel are weaker teams like Antrim and Fermanagh but Antrim were in the Ulster final five years ago and look at the headway that Fermanagh made this year under Peter McGrath. They were close to an Ulster final appearance and they did very well against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

"And with Frank Fitzsimmons again at the helm, Antrim have the capacity to come back into the reckoning more strongly."

While Monaghan and Donegal have replaced Tyrone and Armagh as Ulster's 'big two' given the latter duo's dominance from 2002 until 2010 in particular, there is nonetheless the underlying belief that there is now what Feeney describes as a "levelling out process" taking place in Ulster.

However, the two counties which are currently without managers, Derry and Down, are among teams that will be under immense pressure to reach a higher level next year.

Both are currently enduring an Ulster title drought, the Oak Leafs' last provincial triumph having been in 1998 while the Mournemen have to go back to 1994 for their last acquaintance with the Anglo-Celt Cup.

While the task of finding new team bosses is being stepped up in each county, there are fears that another fruitless year could have serious repercussions for either or both.

"Obviously while I believe any county can win the title, this is based on the assumption that they can perform to the best of their ability on any given day and that has not always been the case with some counties," pointed out Feeney.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that the Ulster Championship is the most competitive of all the provincial championships and it's not really surprising that this year we had four teams in the last eight of the All-Ireland series.

"There has been a levelling out process, if you like, taking place in the province.

"Surely our representation in the All-Ireland quarter-finals is a big statement in itself in relation to the current health of the game here."

While the Kerry v Tyrone All-Ireland semi-final last weekend held its own level of appeal, it is surpassed by the fervour that surrounds this Sunday's second last-four clash between Dublin and Mayo.

Some 30,000 more spectators will flood through the turnstiles for a sell-out tie that is a repeat of the 2013 All-Ireland final, which Dublin won.

There were 53,000 fans at the Kerry v Tyrone tie while just over 82,000 will be at Headquarters this weekend.

Kerry will not begin their preparations for the All-Ireland final in earnest until next week with manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice revealing that confirmation of their opponents in the decider will have an influence on the team's training programme and tactical build-up.

Belfast Telegraph


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