Football

Mickey Harte’s Derry expected to maintain home League hoodoo over Tyrone

Allianz Football League Division One, round two: Derry v Tyrone (Celtic Park, Sunday 3.45pm)

Derry manager Mickey Harte speaks to his team before his first game in charge 3/1/2024 Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup Round 1, Kingspan Breffni, Cavan 3/1/2024 Cavan vs Derry Derry manager Mickey Harte speaks to his team before the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie (©INPHO/James Crombie ©INPHO/James Crombie/©INPHO/James Crombie)

If Tyrone require inspiration to record a rare away league victory over Derry they need only look to the home dug-out.

Not just because their former long-time boss Mickey Harte will be standing there, smiling. Although the Red Hands have enjoyed a few Championship successes in Celtic Park in recent memory, their last league win on Derry soil came as far back as 1981, at Ballinascreen – and a certain Mickey Harte scored four points for the visitors.

That’s an indication of Derry’s determination and desire not to be done down by their neighbours, despite all Tyrone’s larger triumphs this century.

Indeed, although stats can be skewed by rarity value Tyrone have only ever won once in the League at this venue – and that was on their first ever visit, in 1931.

Tyrone did get a draw here a decade ago. They’re surely settle for that now.



Not losing is hugely important, given other quirks of inter-connectedness involving Mickey Harte and beyond him.

His nephew Peter Harte should lead the visitors out as the new Tyrone captain.

Derry skipper Conor Glass last weekend got engaged to Niamh O’Donnell, sister of Tyrone player Seanie. Oak League attacking star Shane McGuigan is dating Claire Canavan (O’Donnell’s cousin) – whose elder sister Aine is married to Peter Harte.

Tyrone's Peter Harte and Kerry's Sean O'Shea in action during the Allianz Football League Division one game between Tyrone and Kerry. Picture by Philip Walsh
Tyrone's Peter Harte and Kerry's Sean O'Shea in action during the Allianz Football League Division one game between Tyrone and Kerry. Picture by Philip Walsh Tyrone's Peter Harte and Kerry's Sean O'Shea in action during the Allianz Football League Division one game between Tyrone and Kerry. Picture by Philip Walsh

There’s no danger of this becoming ‘the friendly derby’ though.

It may not have seemed possible but ‘the Mickey Harte factor’ has added spice to this old rivalry.

It had appeared to have lost its edge given Tyrone’s dominance over the previous decade but the boot is definitely now on the Derry foot.

The Oak Leafers emphatically held the upper hand in recent meetings, thrashing Tyrone in both the 2022 Ulster SFC meeting and then the 2023 McKenna Cup Final, by 11 and then 12 points respectively. The first of those in Omagh, the second in Armagh.

Home advantage, as indicated, has been significant, so it’s no surprised that the hosts are firmly fancied, at 1/3, to win again.

That might rankle, but Tyrone will know it’s reality, however much they may want to avenge those heavy losses.

The Red Hands will accept the attachment of the favourites tag to Derry.

Indeed joint-manager Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan will probably play up the ‘underdogs’ label to motivate their new-look team.

Tyrone handed out six League debuts last Sunday and may be forced into at least one more change as Conn Kilpatrick’s controversial red card against Roscommon was upheld by the Central Hearings Committee. Whether the Red Hands appeal remains to be seen.

On the upside, Kilpatrick’s Edendork colleague Darren McCurry is available after suspension.

Normally a new manager has to build a team but Derry are by far the more settled side, even with some new faces in the mix.

Although they’ve only just returned to the top flight, their sights are clearly set on the upper end of the table.

The hosts will want to reduce the defensive openness that allowed Kerry a series of goal chances, especially with Darragh Canavan in fine form for Tyrone.

There’s less pressure on both teams due to their winning starts. Positive results would have sufficed in themselves but winning in Kerry is always welcome, while Tyrone showed serious spirit to deal with the controversial dismissal of midfielder Kilpatrick early in the second half. Still, it’s worth noting that Roscommon were very understrength, with their boss Davy Burke suggesting they were without 10 likely Championship starters.

This will be a huge step up.

Derry have been the best team in Ulster over the past two seasons, with the Anglo-Celt Cups to back up that claim.

Derry full-forward and now Allstar, Shane McGuigan.
Derry full-forward and now Allstar, Shane McGuigan. Derry full-forward and now Allstar, Shane McGuigan.

Former Tyrone captain Padraig Hampsey fears no one but the brilliant McGuigan will still be a worry. Hampsey and his Coalisland clubmate Michael McKernan are key elements in the new-look defence, with the latter outstanding against Roscommon.

Cormac Quinn, the only other non-debutant in defence last weekend, is doubtful after the injury which forced him off also kept him out of Ulster University’s midweek Sigerson Cup quarter-final win.

Whatever numbers Tyrone’s support travel in will do so more in hope than expectation; that will largely be on Derry, but it is unlikely to weigh heavily on them, or their experienced man in charge.