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Tyrone have the Harte for Ulster Championship

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Last year's Ulster Final protagonists Tyrone and Antrim will fancy getting their hands on the Anglo Celt Cup this year and Mickey Harte and Liam Bradley did that yesterday

Last year's Ulster Final protagonists Tyrone and Antrim will fancy getting their hands on the Anglo Celt Cup this year and Mickey Harte and Liam Bradley did that yesterday

Last year's Ulster Final protagonists Tyrone and Antrim will fancy getting their hands on the Anglo Celt Cup this year and Mickey Harte and Liam Bradley did that yesterday

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte breezed back into the province yesterday following a whirlwind three-day trip to the United States and lost no time in pouring cold water on the theory that his side might not have the appetite to retain their Ulster Championship title.

Harte’s plane had no sooner touched down than he was confronted with the revelation that midfield powerhouse Aidan Cassidy will miss the first round game against Antrim on Sunday week.

Yet while he is still awaiting the return of Brian Dooher, Enda McGinley and Conor Gormley in particular to his starting fifteen, the triple All Ireland winning boss nevertheless fired out a warning that the Red Hands will be up for battle.

“While there is no doubt that a levelling out process has taken place in Ulster football of late and has led to the quite justifiable belief that virtually any side could win the trophy, I do not believe that the portents from our own viewpoint are all bad,” he said.

“We have Joe McMahon back, Justin McMahon is making good progress and Stephen O’Neill is there, as is Brian Dooher. Now that I have the news of Aidan Cassidy’s injury I am disappointed but we have to be positive.”

The fact that Dooher and Stephen O’Neill have been building up their fitness and regaining their scoring touch with their clubs is seen as a significant Tyrone bonus although Harte remains non-committal in relation to their chances of starting against Liam Bradley’s side.

Harte has long since been resigned to being without players like Damien McCaul and Ciaran Gourley for the early stages of the Championship at least but believes that the team will still contain sufficient hunger, experience and skill to remain a major force in the provincial competition.

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“Obviously you have to acknowledge that the winners of next Sunday’s Derry v Armagh game will provide a very strong side in the next round, Down have won promotion to Division Two of the National League and are looking very healthy, Donegal have the capacity to provide Championship shocks and Monaghan will fancy their chances because of their enhanced resources so it’s a very open race no matter how you look at it,” points out Harte.

Yet the Red Hands supremo would have no objection to turning the clock back to 2003 if he could — and with good reason.

“We won the All Ireland title that year using about 16 players in all. That certainly made it a more straightforward task but we are certainly not in that position now. Nonetheless we will go with what we have,” adds Harte.

With Antrim having lost their Division Three final against Sligo last month — their third defeat in their last four competitive matches — there has been a growing feeling that they may have lost their sheen at what is a critical period of the year.

But Harte makes the point that Liam Bradley’s side may now be even more fired up for their Ulster Championship challenge.

“I think it is worth pointing out that at the start of the National League Tyrone were in Division One and Antrim were starting out in Division Three.

“Now we are both in Division Two and there’s a message there somewhere. Antrim will not be

in the least fazed by facing us especially as the match is at Casement Park. They have matured as a side and I think this will be reflected in the forthcoming Championship. Besides, they will want to avenge last year’s Ulster final defeat” insists Harte.

And he adds: “Winning an Ulster title still means an awful lot to players. It should never be devalued. There is not a side in the

country that would not like to lift a provincial title and then go on and win the All Ireland. While the qualifiers offer a welcome second chance, there is no doubt that every manager wants his team to achieve success via the most direct route possible.”


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