GAA Football

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte only now preparing to face Antrim

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte was fully focussed on Derry - Antrim are next up in the Ulster SFC.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin

TYRONE boss Mickey Harte says he’s done no research on their next opponents Antrim – but that was a compliment to Derry rather than any insult to the Saffrons.

The Red Hands will be even stronger favourites to win their Ulster SFC quarter-final than they were for the preliminary round against the Oak Leafers, even at a neutral venue.

However, Harte insisted that they’ll treat Antrim with respect, as they did with Derry, laughing off any suggestion that they might have been already preparing to take on Lenny Harbinson’s side:

“No, we wouldn’t compile a file on anyone until we know we’re going to meet them. We really haven’t looked at Antrim at all.

“We had to be serious about this [Derry] game and we were very serious about this game, because if we hadn’t taken it seriously and thought of what possibilities could come our way, then we could easily have been beaten. Our preparation and our approach to looking at Derry only has actually carried us through.”

Tyrone were able to hand full senior championship debuts against Derry to defenders Michael Cassidy and Ben McDonnell and midfielder Brian Kennedy, although the last-named only lasted a quarter of the match due to a hamstring problem and is a doubt for the next round.

Harte was pleased to expand the amount of experience in his panel, explaining: “It's a squad game now and it's good to get new players with Championship game-time. You can’t get it anywhere else. It doesn't matter what you play in, the Championship has got a flavour of its own and players need to experience that to understand what it is about.

“That's a real good preparation for us going into the next game because we have to be on our guard again.

“We are playing another team from the division that Derry were in this year and it has us well-warned to be ready for it because, as we know, anything can happen on the day and we are going into a similar situation the next day out.”

Antrim have Tyrone native Brendan Trainor, from Augher, in their backroom team, but there are few secrets about the Red Hands anyway, although Harte acknowledged that any ‘inside’ information could be valuable:

“Well, I’m sure they’d know a bit about the way that Tyrone football is played, I’m sure they’d know the characters involved, maybe better than others – most people looking on mightn’t fully appreciate who pulls most of the strings or whatever.”

Of greater concern may be the Saffrons’ tactical approach, with Harte noting: “Again, if you set up well defensively and your players work very hard then you are very difficult to break down, no matter where you have played your football.

“I was always saying that – we said before the [Derry] game we would expect to win this game, we believed we would win this game. But I also said there’s always an exception to the rule and those exceptions do happen - and it was very close to happening again. We are definitely relieved that we didn’t allow it to happen.”

Derry’s defensive approach, including replacing forwards Emmett and Christopher Bradley in their named line-up with Liam McGoldrick and Jason Rocks, contributed to Tyrone playmakers Peter Harte and Niall Sludden being largely bottled up and held scoreless from play, with kudos also to their markers Karl McKaigue and Paul McNeill.

However, Harte was adamant that he wasn’t worried about those two again being restricted by the opposition:

“No, no, that’s par for the course. You can’t expect certain players to always be the ones to make a difference. That’s what we asked for: if the players who usually make a difference are not as effective as they would normally be, then who else is going to put up their hand?

“I think it’s good that other people can carry that burden at times – I think Cathal McShane was wonderful inside.”

Harte has no problems either with Tyrone playing again inside two weeks, and probably at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh:

“I am happy. Players love playing games. If you stay injury-free then you love to play away every fortnight. Hopefully Kieran McGeary will be back for the next one so that will compensate maybe for the loss of Brian Kennedy the next time.

“[The Athletic Grounds] is good enough, we play there quite a bit. We don’t mind – it’s a ground we know very well, it’s a very good ground, it’s great for a crowd as well, it’s a nice place to go – and we’re delighted that we’re still going”.

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