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Mickey Harte watching Tyrone's Allianz Football League win over Cavan on Saturday.
Mickey Harte watching Tyrone's Allianz Football League win over Cavan on Saturday.

Mickey Harte: 'We are on an upward curve'

By Michael Devlin

Building on the preceding week’s defeat of Monaghan, Saturday evening’s nine-point win over Cavan was another sort of Tyronoe performance that one comes to expect from last year’s All-Ireland finalists, and far away from the abject displays that opened their 20019 Allianz League campaign.

It looked worrying for Mickey Harte’s team after two rounds when they sat at the bottom of Division One without a point. A four-point loss down in Killarney showcased a Red Hand attacking unit lacking cohesion and incision, and it wasn’t remedied by the time Mayo came to Omagh seven days later and handed them their heaviest league defeat in five years.

While coming away from Dr Hyde Park with a draw in week three exhibited a certain degree of improvement, the alarm bells weren’t exactly silenced. However, two wins from two since has shifted Tyrone up the table and away from the relegation zone, and after the Cavan game Harte reflected on his side’s turnaround since those early losses.

“Of both of the games, we would be most disappointed with the Mayo one. We just didn’t seem to be at the pace of the game after the first 25 minutes when there wasn’t much in it, and then fell apart just before half-time and never really put up a fight in the second half. That was so un-Tyrone-like.

“That was the one we would have been most concerned about. We felt we could have got something out of the Kerry game after a bad first half as well but not as bad as the one against Mayo. We were still within striking distance of them so that was not too concerning.

“I did feel we should have got more out of the Roscommon game. We slipped at a vital time when it was three-all against a real gale and then conceded six in a row. We made ourselves a lot of hard work in that game and still got a draw out of it.

“Some people say it may have been fortuitous, having a free overturned but that happens all over the field at any time. I also felt Mattie Donnelly’s black card had more impact on that game than losing a particular free.

“We can’t rest on our laurels in any shape or form. It is a tight division in the bottom half at the moment and they have changed over the last seven days, some teams have gone back a bit.

“Thankfully, we are on an upward curve at the minute. It isn’t enough to bring us to safety so that we can say ‘yes, we are a Division One team next year’, so we have some more work to do to secure that place for ourselves.”

Adverse weather conditions certainly had a significant impact on the weekend’s league schedule across both codes, with three Division One hurling ties falling victim on Sunday afternoon. While all football fixtures were ultimately fulfilled, the persistent wind and rain had a telling influence in a lot of games.

Tyrone selector Gavin Devlin and manager Mickey Harte before Saturday's win against Cavan.
Tyrone selector Gavin Devlin and manager Mickey Harte before Saturday's win against Cavan.

Tyrone played with the wind in the first half and scored 0-8, but curiously they fared even better in the second period playing into it, posting 1-7 in a half where they restricted Cavan to just a point from play, and only two for the whole game.

Harte contended that having a strong wind in your team’s favour is not as much of an advantage in today’s game than in previous eras, given the propensity for current teams to run the ball and retain possession with less risky passes.

“The breeze is a strange kind of thing. I suppose in the past people might have paid more heed to if you were paying with it or against it. I think in the modern game, it isn’t as big a factor because teams are good at holding possession, good at holding other teams out with a solid defensive set-up.

“It wasn’t as it used to be that the team who had the wind could expect to go seven or eight points up on the strength of the wind. I don’t think it is like that anymore, I think teams can adapt and play as well against it as they can with it.”

As Tyrone look to have reignited their attacking prowess, Harte is faced with numerous options to how he can set up his front six pertaining to the way he chooses to play. Peter Harte has been leading the scoring charge this year for the Red Hands, most of the time from full-forward, while Cathal McShane has played a lot of his football this year in that target man role.

The return from injury of last season’s top scorer Connor McAliskey is an obvious boost, and Saturday evening also saw effective contributions from Darren McCurry and Kyle Coney from off the bench.

There is also the versatile Mattie Donnelly, who has proven himself as an effective ball winner when deployed close to goal, and it’s another possibility that Harte will no doubt be mulling over before Tyrone make their Ulster Championship bow against Derry on May 12th.

“We’ll run it any time we see it as valuable and today it was valuable. Yes, he is a good player and he can play anywhere, obviously he poses a threat for defenders. He has got the physicality and the ball skills to take people on, the ability to win ball. He has a lot of things you need in the modern game for a forward.

“We have people who are out and out forwards, but it is good to have someone who has that versatility and maybe has played football in defence as well and can move up front and give a different picture for the forwards.

“There are lots of players with different assets and what they can offer and it’s about getting the best mix and then introducing the lads who might be seen as out and out forwards.”

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