Peter Harte still gets that final feeling
By Sean McGrath
HE has played on the grandest of stages for club, county, province, school and country, but Tyrone’s Peter Harte said that there’s something about Ulster final day that still brings the butterflies to the stomach.
The Errigal Ciaran player, who made his inter-county debut in a McKenna Cup clash with Donegal in January 2010, has again starred as Mickey Harte’s side have reached the provincial decider – but he says that he will be a bundle of nervous energy ahead of Sunday’s clash with Down in Clones.
“I think this is my eighth year playing for Tyrone and it’s my third final,” said Harte.
“You think that they’ll happen every year but it doesn’t work out like that.
“You have to enjoy it a bit, but it’s like everything, the nerves come with it as the game approaches.
“A bit of anxiousness comes with any big game, which impacts on that enjoyment a little.
“All you have to do it work hard on the pitch, like we have been doing all season, and try and get everything right for the day.”
Everything has been going right on the day for the Red Hands thus far with the side recording an 11-point win over Derry in the quarter-final and a nine-point win over Donegal in the semi-final.
It has led to suggestions that they could enter the final undercooked with their opponents benefitting from tight, hard-hitting victories over both Armagh and Monaghan.
Harte, however, does not subscribe to the belief that they could be caught cold.
“I’m not sure about that, but at least we did get plenty of tough tests in the National League,” he said.
“That’s the good thing about being in Division One, you get seriously tested throughout it. It’s just seven or eight weeks in a row of big, big tests.
“I know we ended up with comfortable enough victories in the two games, but I don’t think either really felt like that.
“That’s the thing about championship, in a moment it can all turn around.
“We haven’t focused on how we’ve got to the Down match, we’ve just focused on the fact that we have got there.
“Our sole concentration now is on Down rather than past performances.”
This will be the first time the two counties have clashed at this stage since the 2003 decider, which required a replay before Tyrone triumphed en-route to their first All-Ireland title.
Tyrone were strong favourites then too, but Down tore into them and led by nine points in the second half before a virtuoso performance from Peter Canavan took the Red Hands back from the brink and perhaps significantly altered their history.
Harte said that he expects their opponents to bring a similar manic intensity this weekend.
“Down have the talent there, they have shown that this season and it’s no surprise to see them in the final.
“They always have great players and I’m just looking forward to a game between two good sides who will give it everything.”
While Harte’s nerves are understandable, they have never seemed to impact on him too much.
After just seven minutes against Monaghan in the 2010 final, he finally got his first Ulster final start against Donegal last year.
“Worked his socks off in the first half without getting any reward but really came to the fore after the break with two points including an outstanding effort from 48 metres to put his side in front five minutes into injury-time. 7.5,” his Irish News rating read after last year’s win over Donegal.
Nerves or no nerves, Down will have to be ready for the drive Harte brings to the field on Sunday.