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Tyrone have it off by Harte in their quest to reach final

 

On song: Peter Harte’s skills as a playmaker could help take his uncle Mickey Harte (left) and Tyrone into the league decider
On song: Peter Harte’s skills as a playmaker could help take his uncle Mickey Harte (left) and Tyrone into the league decider
John Campbell

By John Campbell

The warm handshake which Mickey Harte exchanged with his nephew Peter Harte out on the Croke Park pitch in the immediate aftermath of Tyrone's stunning victory over Dublin on Saturday night said more than words could ever articulate.

This was no mere perfunctory gesture but a bonding exercise between two high-profile sportsmen, justifiably basking in the knowledge that they had fulfilled their respective roles in the rehabilitation of a team that had been laden with a relegation tag less than a month ago.

If Mickey marked his 300th game in charge by overseeing a refreshingly adventurous strategy that yielded handsome dividends against the clearly discomfited All-Ireland champions, then it was his gifted 28-year-old nephew who played a leading role in implementing it.

Tonight at training, in the ongoing quest for perfection that consumes both of them, they will appraise and perhaps even modify further a tactical plan which they hope that Galway will encounter difficulty in combating when the sides meet at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday (2.00pm), with a place in the league final at stake.

Peter Harte's artistic flair, Mattie Donnelly's selfless energy, his brother Richard's midfield authority and Cathal McShane's voracious appetite for scores sustained a passage of killing brilliance against Dublin that not only thrust their side into the national spotlight, but has sparked belief that the league crown could be within their gambit.

Yet feet remain on the ground, the residue of those painful losses in the opening segment of the league ensuring that the one match at a time mantra will never be forsaken.

"The win over Dublin put two more points on the board for us and that is as far as it goes," says Peter Harte. "We feel we had been building towards that performance without actually delivering it. Now we appear to have set the bar that little bit higher for ourselves but that's a good thing at this time of the year.

"We will be going in against a Galway side on Sunday that have one point more than us and they will certainly be chasing a victory so it's up to us to respond to this challenge."

Indeed, Sunday's final round of fixtures could hardly offer a more fascinating backdrop to the conclusion of the top tier of the competition.

While Kerry look a good bet to reach the final with 10 points from a possible 12 - they will play misfiring Roscommon on Sunday - Galway and Mayo share second place each on eight points with Tyrone tucked in behind them on seven.

Nothing less than a win over Kevin Walsh's side and a victory by Monaghan over rejuvenated Mayo will open the door to a league final appearance for the Red Hands, and manager Mickey Harte clearly relishes another trip to Headquarters for the final on March 31.

"Any day you get to play at Croke Park is a good day, and there is always an incentive to do well there, especially when there is a trophy at stake," reflects Harte.

"But we are strongly focused on this game against Galway on Sunday.

"As always at this stage of the league there are various permutations being put forward, which is understandable, but we must aim to be the best we can be and see where that takes us."

Harte has watched players like Ben McDonnell, Kieran McGeary and Frank Burns grow in stature within his side and with Rory Brennan, Connor McAliskey and Darren McCurry among those coveting starting places, he could face some interesting yet welcome selection posers when he sets about finalising his line-up tonight.

"It's good to see players putting their hands up. There is better competition for places and that's the way we would want it. We are mixing our game up a bit now and the players are showing that they can respond to this," points out Harte.

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