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Ulster duo under pressure to banish provincial woes

Crunch time: Monaghan veteran Vinny Corey
Crunch time: Monaghan veteran Vinny Corey
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

It was a somewhat chastened Mickey Harte who sat in front of reporters after Tyrone's Ulster semi-final defeat to Donegal and contemplated the future.

For the second year in a row, Harte had made a number of last-minute changes to the team named in an effort to catch out the opponents. But, just as it did against Monaghan in 2018, the changes backfired and he was forced to reverse them.

Despite reaching the All-Ireland final last year, the Red Hands' ability to mess themselves up has become more prevalent in recent years. And while they may be familiar with the qualifiers route, that's not exactly an endorsement of their ability to get things right in one-off games of real importance.

Speaking ahead of the qualifiers draw - Tyrone have since been paired with Longford, who they play today - Harte said: "Well, there's not much choice. It's good that the qualifiers exist because otherwise we'd be out of the Championship by now.

"At least we have this second chance, and historically we've made a decent hand out of availing of that opportunity.

"Again, it's all to do with the luck of the draw and who you get in the first qualifier you play and if you get a chance to gain momentum before you meet serious, serious opponents, so that's all in the lap of the gods now.

"We don't believe we're a bad team just because we lost a game. We had a very good finish to the league and were in an All-Ireland final last year, and one defeat in the Ulster Championship shouldn't really take away from all of that."

While Tyrone should get past the challenge of Longford handily enough, the toughest looking of all the qualifiers is the all-Ulster meeting of Armagh and Monaghan in Clones this evening.

Monaghan veteran Vinny Corey managed to work his way back into Malachy O'Rourke's starting team that played Fermanagh in the last round, but he knows they are playing something very different with the style the Orchard County bring.

"When you go out of provincial competition, you never know where you're at," said the 36-year-old teacher.

"Fermanagh was a tough one, tricky for us. In the first round of the qualifiers you just want to get over the line and we did that.

"With Armagh, you think, 'This is just as tricky as the first one was'. We didn't come out of the Fermanagh game with any real form or confidence in the performance, and Armagh are coming in after a few great games in the Ulster Championship, so it's a tough job."

Corey is struggling to put his finger on the reason for Monaghan's poor season to date. They overcame Dublin in the first league game of the year but have struggled since, with suggestions forthcoming that O'Rourke has very much tailored preparations to peak in late summer.

"I wouldn't say worry, it's a waste of time worrying, but there is probably concern when you go out of the provincials. We had a bad start against Cavan, then played better in the second half, but still not overly well," said Corey.

"Going into the Fermanagh game, there were a few factors. First of all it was Fermanagh, and you're never going to overly shine, it's not that sort of game, it's just about getting the result, and it's the first round of the qualifiers, you don't know where you're at.

"Worried would be the wrong word but there's a sense that there has to be a bit of urgency. There's a good chance, in a lot of people's eyes, that we could be going out of the Championship on Saturday night because Armagh are coming in with a bit of form.

"Many people would feel they're playing the better quality football and we haven't reached those levels yet.

"It's definitely not a draw to be complacent about, you can't just ride your luck, we're going to have to up the performance levels."

We will soon see.

Belfast Telegraph

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