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Mickey Harte is aiming to retain winning feeling

 

Lead role: Peter Harte is set to spark Tyrone’s challenge against Kerry in Killarney
Lead role: Peter Harte is set to spark Tyrone’s challenge against Kerry in Killarney
John Campbell

By John Campbell

His side may have just captured the Dr McKenna Cup for the 11th time during his watch, they could be said to be in pole position for this year's Ulster title and they boast an impressive corps of emerging talent, but you won't hear Tyrone boss Mickey Harte engaging in grandiose Allianz Football League predictions.

The Red Hands will make the long haul to Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney this weekend to face a new-look Kerry with which Peter Keane will be making his competitive debut as manager, but even a five-match bonanza in Ulster's pre-season competition does not persuade Harte to exceed the bounds of optimism in assessing his team's position.

"Our aim will be to try to get as many wins as we can in order to secure our place in Division One for next season and then try and get another couple that might take us nearer to the final," revealed Harte.

"If we can do that then we will be very happy. Obviously as I have said before we like to try and win all competitions in which we participate but that's not always possible. However, we will be giving the league our best shot."

While Harte goes into Sunday's game suitably fortified by his team's Dr McKenna Cup triumph, his opposite number Keane will engage in league action against a backdrop of uncertainty and apprehension as his restructured side come under the gaze of Kerry's notoriously fickle following.

With players such as Kieran Donaghy and Donnchadah Walsh having retired and Jason Foley, David Clifford, Kevin McCarthy, Peter Crowley and possibly Mark Griffin ruled out through injury - and with David Moran just returning from his honeymoon this weekend - Keane does not have his selection woes to seek.

He certainly has lost no time in making it clear that success should not be viewed as a short-term gain.

"I think there's a realisation in Kerry from what I'm hearing anyway and feeling on the ground that it will take us a bit of time to get there and that's what we're about," declared 47-year-old former All-Ireland-winning minor boss Keane.

"We're going to go out and give it our best shot against Tyrone for starters. Obviously it would be great if we do things very quickly but we're intent on getting there so it will take a bit of time.

"The fact of the matter is that outwardly nobody knows where we're at and we don't know ourselves until we get into it.

"If I am feeling stressed in January, it will get a lot more stressful as the year goes on.

"I think you can only embrace the challenge because if you don't you are sunk."

Tyrone's consistency to date is proving a source of encouragement to their manager and the fact that players such as skipper Peter Harte, midfield ace Declan McClure, the creative Niall Sludden and the explosive Darren McCurry, who hit 0-9 in the McKenna Cup final win over Armagh, have hit such a rich vein of form so early could provide the impetus for a winning start.

With the battle for starting places in his side now about to intensify, Harte sees Sunday's mission as vitally important in terms of setting the tone for the league campaign.

"We have other people to come in and of course places are up for grabs," said Harte.

Darragh Canavan, son of Tyrone legend Peter, is among the players who could make a big impact in the league.

"Who wouldn't be excited about the prospect of watching Darragh in action? If people have not heard of him up until now, then I guarantee you they will certainly know all about him in the near future," smiled Harte.

Meanwhile, Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has a shoal of injury worries ahead of his team's trip to Newbridge where they will meet Kildare, the county he managed for six years before returning to his native soil.

Mark Shields, Patrick Burns, Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell are among the doubtful starters with Paul Hughes and Ethan Rafferty still out because of longer-term injuries.

McGeeney was "happy enough" with his team's performance in last Saturday's Dr McKenna Cup final but is aware that Kildare will present his side with a formidable challenge even though they too are missing several frontline players.

"This is a big challenge for us at the outset of the league and we know what we have to do," said McGeeney. "We had to start the McKenna Cup final without three of our players that had been originally selected but the boys who came in did very well.

"This gives us encouragement going forward and we know that we have to pull out all the stops if we are to get something out of this game in Newbridge.

"I know first-hand that Kildare can be difficult opponents so it's important that we get into our stride early if we are to have a chance."

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