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Mickey Harte is hungry to dine at top table once again

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has fired out a warning to his undefeated side as they get primed for what he hopes will be a place in Division One of the Allianz Football League next term.

Harte, keen to ensure that even the slightest element of complacency does not infiltrate his squad, makes it abundantly clear that he regards their tenure in the second tier of the competition as being for one season only.

"We may have maximum points to date but that's what I expected. I will be very disappointed if we don't get out of Division Two. I am still disappointed that we are here in the first place because I thought we played some good football last year but the results did not quite go our way," insisted Harte.

His team will travel to meet Meath on Sunday before taking on Armagh and Fermanagh in their last two scheduled fixtures.

"It would be nice to reach the league final, that's our aim. It did hurt when we were relegated last year and we are very keen to get back up there again," added Harte.

And as one of the most important weekends in the competition looms, Harte can take considerable comfort from not one but two significant bonuses.

The strength of his bench is proving a key weapon in his armoury while the return to form of the exciting Ronan O'Neill not only provides a fresh dimension within the attack but offers the side a quality free-taker.

"I think that the players recognise now you are not going to win a game with just 15 men. It generally takes 20 or 21 players to get over the line and that's why it is good to be able to bring people in with maybe 50 or 55 minutes gone so that they can influence things and help get the wins," stated Harte.

It was against Derry last Saturday that the rejuvenated O'Neill emphasised his huge value to the team. Initially hailed as an under-age starlet, he missed out on two years of inter-county action through injuries.

He faced a lengthy rehabilitation period but applied himself to a rigorous training regime that has seen him return to form.

Not only is he currently striving to secure a place in the full-forward line having previously slotted in at centrethreequarters, he is also displaying his expertise as a free-taker.

In what was his team's third win over Derry in three months, he returned 100 per cent record by landing five kicks from placed balls while also scoring another point from play.

It was a display that drew warm praise from manager Harte who has watched his side enjoy nothing better than something just in excess of a 50 per cent success rate from frees in some recent games.

"Ronan has worked hard on his fitness levels and is now showing the form of which he is capable," said Harte. "He gives us an extra option in terms of free-taking which is good."

In some of Tyrone's earlier league games, their free-taking was not all that it might have been but O'Neill looks set to play a big part in helping the side finish their campaign with a flourish.

Nor is the Omagh St Enda's clubman just focused on getting scores. He is tracking back intelligently and can often be found serving as the link between defence and attack.

"Obviously you are not going to have everything perfect in every game and there have been times when we have made things hard for ourselves but the manner in which the players are applying themselves just now is very encouraging," added Harte.

"Ultimately it's about getting two points from every game we play and we know that the pressure will be stepped up now for all teams be they in the running for promotion or battling against relegation."

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