Tyrone’s three in a row bid begins in Omagh.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Tyrone's bid for an unprecedented third successive Ulster SFC title begins this Sunday in a fascinating first round clash with Monaghan at Healy Park, Omagh.

In a rare opportunity to play a championship game on home soil, the Red Hands will need to be at their very best to get the better of a confident Farney side coming off an impressive league campaign.

The reigning champions are set to hand championship debuts to a couple of exciting talents, who face a baptism of fire in the white heat of Anglo-Celt Cup action.

All-Star midfielder Colm Cavanagh remains a major doubt due to a quad muscle injury, but ace attacker Lee Brennan has recovered from a slight hamstring strain.

Manager Mickey Harte and his players are preparing for a ferocious battle against one of the top teams in the country.

"They have been a Division One team for a number of years now, and they have a number of Ulster titles as well, and appeared in other finals," said Harte.

Uncertainty continues over the fitness of key player Colm Cavanagh, who is struggling to fully recover from a quad muscle injury.

"It's a work in progress. We can't say for certain that he's in and we can't say for certain that he's out. He's working on with it and he's giving himself a fighting chance of being some part of it anyway," said Harte.

"It certainly will give us headaches if he isn't fit to play. That would be a big loss to us, and so would several other players if we hadn't got them.

"But if your team becomes totally dependent on one player when they're not there, then you're probably not preparing your team well in the first place.

"So yes, we would dearly love to have him, we know how effective and valuable he is to us, but we'd also be very mindful of the fact that we might not have him, and we have had plenty of time to think about that.

So hopefully we will be able to deal with whatever unfolds." Tyrone's last championship defeat ended in a crushing defeat at the hands of Dublin in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, but Harte insisted that there will be no major changes to his team's style of play as a result.

"Why would we abandon all that happened before, and think that that's binned, and this only some kind of reactionary response to what happened against Dublin?

"We are building on what we did last year, and we're keeping very much of what we did last year in our armoury," he said.

"So it's not about because Dublin beat us, we throw out the baby with the bath-water, forget all we'd done and think, this isn't working.

"It worked very well for us in four championship matches last year. It didn't work well in one, a very important one of course, but I can't separate those things. I think that's all part of what we did last year.

"There seems to be a very tunnel vision or focus on this particular game, and obviously some people enjoy that focus more than others, and tell you about it often.

I get confused at how people don't seem to be able to look at exactly how we played last year."

He continued: "We played a lot of attacking football last year, we racked up some wonderful scores, but if you take a game in isolation that we didn't perform particularly well, and Dublin caught us early and nailed us and kept us there.

"I feel that we played a lot of good football last year, and I certainly wouldn't forget the good football we played, and I won't forget the day we didn't perform, but I'll remember them all."

Tyrone will continue to trust in the strategy that sees them defend in numbers and attack with pace.

"You can't attack if you haven't got the ball, and if you're weak at the back and allow people to score at will, then it doesn't matter how many you have up the field.

It might be very exciting and it might be a high-scoring game, but I don't think you'll get too many wins."

And Harte expressed his annoyance with media observations that paint Tyrone as an ultra-defensive team, while similar strategies from top sides like Kerry and Dublin are ignored.

"Many times I have been at games that Kerry have played and Dublin have played, and I've seen 12, 13 and 14 men in their own half of the field on numerous occasions.

"But it doesn't seem to be commented on to the same extend if it happens when we're playing.

"That's a fact, that's not some chip on our shoulder or anything. We hear that all the time, so until people begin to realise, if you're going to talk about that kind of stuff, talk about it all the time, or don't talk about it all.

"Otherwise it becomes very clear that only those with an agenda are peddling that sort of suggestion."

Harte revealed that he has watched the DVD of last year's defeat to Dublin a few times, but he prefers not to dwell on it.

"If you go to a horror movie, you don't need to go back six times to see it again. It's horror.

"You can be quite sure I watched it more than once, and there's a lot to learn in it. I suppose you learn most in the most hurtful time of reviewing it.

"But you certainly never put it away on the shelf and say, I don't need to think about that any more. You do need to be very conscious of exactly what happened that day, what happened with us, what happened with them, and try and create a sort of a template that wouldn't allow it to happen again.

"So if we can manage that, then I suppose we'll take the pain of it for now, if that opportunity every presents itself again."

The Tyrone manager feels it's vital to win Sunday's provincial opener, for the introduction of the Super 8s will make it extremely difficult for any county to win the All-Ireland title through the Qualifiers.

"This is definitely adding a lot of degree of difficulty to the qualifying route.

"But that doesn't change an awful lot. I have always said I would rather be winning the provincial title than going any other way, because it is something that you can anticipate."

He referenced a degree of uncertainty that the Qualifiers bring, with fixtures at short notice in any corner of the country.

"You can project what's happening, you know who you'd be possibly against if you were to win.

You know the dates that it's going to happen.

"When you head the other way, you don't know what part of the country you're going to, you don't know for sure who you're going to meet."

"It's certainly a lot more challenging for whoever loses that first round game. I can't say that it's not doable. There are examples of people playing a lot of matches to win All-Irelands, historically.

"That is true, it can be done, but that doesn't mean to say it's easy. I think that will add a lot of incentive to people to stay in the direct route in their province, to try and get to the last eight through the direct route.

"In that way, it ought to make the provincial championships much more competitive.

"The real thing is to win your provincial matches. You can't look beyond that. If you do, then you're going to fall on your face.

"I always considered every game in Ulster a final, because if you don't win it you're not in it, so it's a final without a cup every day you go out, until the day that the cup is to be presented."

Tyrone have a home championship match for the first time since 2014, when they played Down, and the manager is grateful for the opportunity to play in front of a Healy Park crowd.

"It's always better to be at home than away, because, I don't care who it is, or where it is, you do feel more comfortable in your own back yard, so to speak.

"So yes, I'm very happy to be at home. I know people will talk about and find statistics and results that say Tyrone didn't do particularly well in Omagh, and that may be so in comparison to other counties who have some kind of fortress mentality about their home venue.

"But what I would say is, if our record in Omagh is not good, then maybe we start making it good. So that's an incentive for us to say, let's change the script about Omagh not being a good place for Tyrone.

"I am quite happy to play in Omagh, and I would rather be playing in Omagh than playing Monaghan in Clones, for sure."


Subscribe to read full newspaper »

Send to a friend

Please complete the following form to inform a friend about this page.

In order to process your information we must ask you to enter the letters in the image into the box:

CAPTCHA Image play audio version Reload Image

* Mandatory field - please complete