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McCrory is hungrier than ever to clinch elusive Ulster crown

By John Campbell

When Aidan McCrory took delivery of the O'Fiaich Cup on behalf of his Tyrone team on a chilly day back in December, he little dreamt that this was to mark the start of one of the most progressive stints under Mickey Harte's baton.

Fifteen unbeaten matches later and already thrust into pole position for the Ulster title, McCrory and his colleagues are challenging themselves to make 2016 a truly memorable year.

The Errigal Ciaran clubman missed the Dr McKenna Cup final win over Derry because he was on his way back from a skiing trip to Canada but was an ever-present in the defence as Tyrone clinched promotion to the top tier of the league before lifting the Division Two title by overcoming Cavan in the decider at Croke Park.

A true disciple of manager Harte, McCrory, who made his Championship debut against Armagh in 2012, has long since bought into the philosophy that every match is there to be won irrespective of its status.

"It doesn't matter what the fixture is, there's no point in saying 'We don't care about it'. You never want to get beaten," declared McCrory, a busy electrical engineer.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since Tyrone beat the Oak Leafers in the semi-final on their way to that O'Fiaich Cup triumph and McCrory believes that Sunday's game against their old rivals will be something of a defining mission for his side.

And now that he has reached 28 years of age, for him in particular the match will have special significance as he is one of several players in the team who do not possess a provincial Championship medal.

A number of them, indeed, who won Ulster and All-Ireland Under-21 medals last year are in the vanguard of the charge for Championship success at a higher level this time round and McCrory is more than happy to join them.

"Even though we may have won three trophies already, you could say that our focus has always been on this particular game against Derry," said McCrory.

The prospect of entering the tight confines of Celtic Park against the backdrop of "a baying crowd", as one Derry official put it, does not seriously discomfit the normally unflappable McCrory.

"We probably have done well enough on the road over the recent years so we will not be too fazed about having to go and face Derry at their place," pointed out McCrory.

"But you can take it that our aim will be to try and take the direct route into the All-Ireland semi-finals which means winning the Ulster title.

"We want to try and avoid that unknown element of the qualifiers.

"Even though the qualifiers have served us well in years gone by, we would still prefer the direct route if we could go that way."

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