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Harte has us fired up for more trophy glory: O'Neill

By John Campbell

We are still on the countdown to Christmas, the wheels of the GAA world are turning rather more slowly than usual and training pitches could not be said to be densely populated.

But the imminent arrival of the festive season will not be allowed to serve as a distraction to Tyrone in their quest to have not one but two trophies in their locker even before a ball is kicked in the Allianz League, which begins at the start of February.

This was something the side achieved in the December-January period prior to the start of this year's league, and now fiercely-driven manager Mickey Harte wants to see this replicated by his players as a precursor to their Division One campaign.

While other managers might be prepared to ease their way into a new season, Harte has clearly already instilled in his squad the desire to hit the ground running and hopefully remain at full throttle until September.

This year Tyrone's Championship journey came to a shuddering halt against Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-finals and Harte has lost no time in setting out his stall for 2017.

Versatile forward Ronan O'Neill perhaps best articulates the Tyrone philosophy. He said: "It is well known that Mickey likes to see us win every game we play and we are now looking forward to the O'Fiaich Cup final against Armagh next Sunday before we set our sights on the McKenna Cup next month.

"After that we want to test ourselves against the best teams in Division One of the league and hopefully, looking further down the line, this will stand to us against Derry in the first round of the Ulster Championship."

Tyrone's handsome 2-19 to 0-14 victory over Louth in the O'Fiaich Cup semi-final at the weekend was achieved with only a handful of what might be considered regular players on duty, and this made the win even more satisfying in O'Neill's eyes.

"We had a lot of new boys in there and people like Declan McClure and Cahair McCullagh did well," stressed O'Neill. "But at the same time we have a lot of experienced players to come back into the reckoning.

"On this front, it's good to see Sean Cavanagh back again. I must be honest and say that I did not think he would step away and I think he is currently putting as much effort as anyone else into training which is great to see."

Tyrone provided seven players to the Ulster squad that chiselled out an inter-provincial semi-final victory over Munster on Sunday and they may be unavailable for county duty again in the O'Fiaich Cup final.

But manager Harte could now find himself once again leaning on youth as the Red Hands bid to regain the O'Fiaich Cup.

"We had an experimental side out against Louth but we will need more power against Armagh and I don't know where that is going to come from as things stand," said Harte.

"We need to get our more experienced players back because we need some stability in the side. It's hard to ask the new players to perform at a high level when you don't have the seasoned players to support them.

"It would be nice to see us getting back a handful of players who have seen and done that over many years but we will have to wait and see what happens.

"Having said that, the players we had on duty against Louth gave everything they had and that's all you can ask of boys at this time of the year. They have to try and get themselves into a better position football-wise simply by playing the game. Their fitness will come on as a result of this.

"We got a lot of scores in the end against Louth, and that's good, but at the same time we conceded more than we would have liked."

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