Harte begins Croker preparations

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Harte begins Croker preparations thumbnailTyrone captain, Sean Cavanagh, lifts the Anglo-Celt Cup after Tyrone defeated Down to win the Ulster Senior Football Championship at Clones.

TYRONE'S All-Ireland quarter-final opponents will be either Armagh, Monaghan or Kildare, and even though the opposition is not yet known, manager Mickey Harte has already begun the process of fine-tuning his team for a return to Croke Park.

The pain of last year's last eight defeat to Mayo will not be eased until the Red Hands get over that particular hurdle in 2017.

Sunday's resounding Ulster final victory over Down was another positive step in that direction, and the players are ready to face the next big challenge.

"We fall too often in a quarter-final for our own good. we need to be very focused in what we're about and prepare for this quarter-final," said Harte.

"It's an awful place to go out, it's not a place you want to be so we will be very focused for the next couple of weeks until we play that game.

"You go to Croke Park as Ulster champions and you don't win, that's unfinished business. That's a step at a time job. We want to be in a semi-final, that's our next challenge.

"That's all we can aim for but that's the one aim we have at this time. If we get there we'll be very happy to be in a semi-final.

"That's the challenge for us now. Win another game in the last eight and be in the last four."

Tyrone pulled away in the second half, but they were just two points ahead of Down following a closely fought first period at Clones on Sunday.

"They have improved in every game in the Ulster Championship and they came in with nothing to lose and everything to gain and they went about their business in the first half very intensely and very well," said Harte.

"They missed a good goal chance which was a significant miss on our part and a good let-off for us. They made it difficult. They let it slip a little at the start of the second half which meant they had to chase the game and that made them vulnerable.

"We did believe that Down would be very difficult to break down. They proved that in the first half. They were with us every step of the way and it was an intense game.

 "We felt we needed a good start in the second half to give us that leeway or cushion. We got it. Sometimes we got a really good run of play and we converted to scores.

"That's the big thing. You could get a good run of play and not get a score. We did that against Donegal before half-time, we did it against Down after half-time and that really pushed us into a good place. So it was a question of keeping the distance after that and was probably the winning of the game for us, that burst after half-time."


Experience and strength

It was Tyrone's experience and strength in depth that made the difference as the game progressed, with a host of quality players coming of the bench, including Omagh star Ronan O'Neill, who helped himself to two goals, his second championship double in as many seasons.

"You need players that can come in and make a difference," said Harte.

"We have been able to defend well and get scores. That's the recipe for winning games. If you can be mean at the back and not concede too much and get scores yourself then you should be in a place to win plenty of games.

"It's certainly nice to have cups and we're very happy to have them and I'll take a cup every day there's one out for grabs.

"The team has been maturing over the last couple of years and they are getting better. But we have to get better to do better than we have been doing. If the improvement is enough to bring us to where we want to go, time will tell.

"But we're pointing in the right direction. It's important to win games, win trophies and it's important to consolidate our position as the best team in Ulster."

Meanwhile, Down manager Eamonn Burns admitted that Tyrone's experience was a key factor in swinging the game in their favour.

"Experience is crucial, their experience in those situations is massive and Tyrone had more experience than we had," he said.

"For a lot of our players it was their first time on the big stage of an Ulster final and thought they tried very, very hard at times. It didn't work out for some of them, but that's the way it is.

"We are disappointed. I thought on the day the best team won and I thought it was very encouraging how we finished the game. We kept battling to the end, we didn't throw the towel in. So that will stand us in good stead.

"The other thing we have to factor in is that was our first time in an Ulster final."

But the Mourne boss feels the experience will stand to them as they prepare to take on Monaghan in the final Qualifier round.

"Today's experience will stand us in good stead. It's a learning curve and we're taking small steps. Today we would've liked to take an Ulster title but unfortunately we didn't. I don't think we can have any complaints, the better team won.

"We'll definitely be doing our very best to have the players ready to compete again on Saturday week."

Burns added:  "At the start of the second half Tyrone seemed able to control the ball and got a few scores and we went from being two down to four or five down and that gave them a cushion to work off.

"When they have that cushion, they use their experience to push on.

"It's difficult to play against them. You definitely have to have men to commit to runs that they probably aren't going to get the ball from. At times in the first half we didn't do that, at times in the second half, especially late on, we did do that., it bore fruit. "Well, it's difficult to play against them. You definitely have to have men to commit to runs that they probably aren't going to get the ball from.

"But today's experience will stand us in good stead. It's a learning curve and we're taking small steps. Today we would've liked to take an Ulster title but unfortunately we didn't."


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