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Mickey Harte is well equipped to guide Tyrone to perfect 10

By John Campbell

It has often been said that no major GAA honours are dispensed in the month of February.

Yet in a nine-match unbeaten run that extends back to December, Tyrone have already picked up two trophies and thrust themselves into pole position for promotion to Division One of the Allianz Football League.

With the O'Fiaich and McKenna Cups safely under lock and key, Tyrone remain the only unbeaten side in the country as the league action steps up.

Despite his team's consistency, manager Mickey Harte remains cautious - and with good reason. With Ronan McNabb not expected to be back in action until July, Conor Meyler having picked up a knock against Galway, Ronan McNamee and Ritchie Donnelly due to line out for UUJ in tomorrow's Sigerson Cup semi-final against Dublin City University at Jordanstown and Sean Cavanagh still feeling his way back to full fitness, Harte is anxious to see injuries avoided as his team prepare to resume league activity against Laois on Saturday week.

On a more encouraging front, confirmation that long-serving Joe McMahon will not now require surgery for a groin problem and the emergence of Hugh Pat McCusker as a defender of rare quality serve to bolster Harte's bid to take his side into Division One.

Just how his side will perform when they re-enter the trenches after a three-week break remains to be seen but Harte believes that every side will be in the same boat.

"You can't depend on any other results to pave the way for you. We have to give total respect to every opposition - if we don't, we won't go very far," he said.

"We want to do the very best we can and obviously avoiding further injuries will be a big help in that direction."

In beating Cavan and Galway, Tyrone were pushed to the pin of their collar but Harte believes that the intensity of these matches will now stand to his side.

"Obviously it was important to get the points but our game management at times was not good and we must learn from this," he said. "We are fortunate to have a strong bench. When you look at the game against Galway, players like Hugh Pat McGeary, Lee Brennan, Mark Bradley and Sean Cavanagh came on and did a good job."

McGeary perhaps made the biggest impression, particularly in the closing stages of the match when he made several timely interceptions that prevented Galway from mounting what could have been a successful recovery.

"Hugh Pat did very well and read his interceptions very competently. He is a good player and I have no hesitation in having him in there. He gives us defensive options and that's what you want," said Harte.

"It's good to have people to come off the bench and maybe help to change the course of games. That's very encouraging as far as I am concerned."

While the game against Laois on Sunday week is important, it will certainly come nowhere near to having the same allure as the Tyrone v Derry clash on Saturday, March 5 at Healy Park, Omagh.

The teams have already met on three occasions since December with the Red Hands having come out on top each time, but Derry's unbeaten surge in the league to date - they have claimed the scalps of Fermanagh and Cavan - suggests that they will be rather more difficult opponents next time out.

While Harte accepts the Derry game will carry considerable significance in terms of the promotion race, he remains strongly focused on the trip to Laois.

"We will just take it one game at a time. At this time of the year there are always various permutations and predictions to be made, but there is a lot of football to be played in the league yet and we will see how things go," he added.

Belfast Telegraph


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