GAA Football

Peter Harte: January slog will prove beneficial in long run to honours

Tyrone's Peter Harte in action against Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan in the All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final in 2017. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Francis Mooney

Six competitive games in the dismal month of January is the target for Tyrone as they build towards a league campaign that could define their season.

A Dr McKenna Cup semi-final against Fermanagh on Sunday keeps the holders on track not only to retain the trophy, but to get things right for the NFL opener against Galway in just over a fortnight.

Various combinations of ice, wind, rain and fog failed to halt the Red Hand march through Section A, which they won at a canter with three straight victories.

The latest, a 21 points rout of Cavan, was the most comfortable of them all, but Peter Harte feels it was no less valuable in terms of giving players opportunities to work on important aspects of their roles.

“It’s about yourself. At the weekend we played St Mary’s, and there were probably a few things that we needed to work on. We probably did a wee bit better,” he said.

“Mickey hasn’t changed in his 17 years, or whatever it is. He wants to play as many games in January as he can.

“We always take the McKenna Cup seriously, and getting to a semi-final on Sunday gives us another chance to work on things, to be competitive, and get another game before Galway in the National League.”

There are clear signs that Tyrone will sharpen their attacking edge in 2018, and Harte sees other complimentary aspects of their game that must be developed if they are to challenge Dublin’s dominance and compete with the top teams.

“We had a couple of very good scores, and the two goals at the end typified it. There was good kick passing, good movement off the ball,'' he added.

“As we saw last year, you need to be working on that, you need to get very good at it, because the top teams are.

“So that’s what we trying to do, is catch those teams ahead of us.

“Look, we’re working hard, we’re trying to get ourselves in a place where we can compete in Division One, and just try and build on what we have been doing this past few years, and improving.

“That’s what it’s all about, because as we’ve seen, there’s teams that are well down the line, and the only way to catch them is to keep working hard.”

Cavan boss Mattie McGleenan fielded an experimental and inexperienced side at Kingspan Breffni on Wednesday evening.

It was a canter for the Red Hands from start to finish, but they maintained a focus on their own game, and used the opportunity to work on targeted areas of performance.

“Obviously Cavan were playing with a very experimental 15 there, and it left it bit easier on us.

“But it was just good to get another run-out in January, because that’s what you need.”

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has made sweeping changes for each game, taking the opportunity to have a look at as many players as possible during the ties against Antrim, St Mary’s and Cavan.

Fierce competition for places means he faces a difficult task in identifying his strongest combination for more important battles that lie ahead.

“You saw some of the young lads that are coming on to our panel now. they’re not there to sit on the bench, they’re pushing us all on and they’re putting boys under pressure.

“So it’s that internal drive and that transition in the squad that you need, and it’s great that those young boys are bringing it, so hopefully it continues,” said former All-Star Peter Harte.

“The league comes upon you very quickly, and if you’re not up to speed, in Division One especially, you’ll be caught out big-time.

“Fair play to the boys, they’re putting a good effort in at the minute, and there’s a lot of boys doing it, so it just means that every minute you get on the pitch for Tyrone, you have to try and make it count.”

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