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Rivals Harte and McErlain keen to fire a warning across Ulster

By John Campbell

The Ulster Senior Football Championship is not due to commence until May 13 when Donegal host Cavan in the preliminary round, but the province is set to offer a hugely attractive aperitif this weekend.

When Tyrone and Monaghan and Derry and Fermanagh go head-to-head on Saturday night it will be under the banner of Allianz League action, but in what is proving a delicately balanced competition overall to date, Championship fervour, intensity and passion will abound both on the field of play and on the terraces.

With Tyrone still smarting from their Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final reversal at the hands of Donegal, their showdown with Monaghan at Castleblayney has now assumed added status as they bid to haul themselves clear of the Division One relegation zone.

And with Derry having won just once in three outings in Division Three, their quest for survival takes on new meaning now that unbeaten Fermanagh form the next barrier to possible progress.

Mickey Harte's demeanour clearly demonstrates his desire to see the Red Hands get back to winning ways as the league approaches a critical stage.

"The points that are on offer for the remainder of the league are all crucial and we need a good number of them to make sure we stay in the top division," insisted the Tyrone boss.

"Every game from here on in will have a serious Championship fervour to it. Our next two league games are against Ulster teams, Monaghan and Donegal, and I expect these to be really close encounters.

"It will be a very tight call for us to try and get the points we need from these games in particular."

Harte is not contemplating any major alterations to his line-up though.

"Normally we would review things after the McKenna Cup, and I am not saying that the door is closed to anyone," he stressed. "These upcoming league games are very important and they will have our total focus."

Ronan McNamee, Mark Bradley and the Brennan brothers Lee and Rory, who have been on duty with UUJ lately, are expected to be back in the selection frame for Saturday's must-win clash.

Harte's evident hunger to see his side improve their position in Division One is matched by that of his Oak Leaf counterpart Damian McErlain, who is facing into what is the biggest match of his short tenure to date.

"We're going in against an unbeaten Fermanagh side. They are playing well, they are at home and so we have it all to do," said McErlain. "While it was encouraging to get that win over Offaly last Sunday, we still have an awful lot more to do."

But while McErlain can take comfort from the contribution of his newcomers, he believes his more established names can play a big part against Fermanagh.

"We are lucky in that guys like Emmett Bradley, Enda Lynn, James Kielt and Mark Lynch are still there to do the business for us. They are setting a great example and they are making a big contribution to the team," stated McErlain.

Kielt and Lynch have been used as substitutes of late, and not only have they been coming on to bring an extra layer of experience and craft to the side, but they have also been getting among the scores.

"It's always good to have lads who can come off the bench and get points for you. That was the case against Offaly," added McErlain.

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