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Red Hands look to Down Mourne men

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Red Hands look to Down Mourne men thumbnailMickey Harte

CLONES will become a cauldron on Sunday as Tyrone attempt to win back-to-back Ulster titles for the first time since 2010.

Down stand between the Red Hands and a second successive Anglo-Celt Cup triumph in Sunday's provincial final.

By virtue of the manner of their semi-final win over Donegal, Mickey Harte's men go in as favourites, but they face a mighty battle against Eamonn Burns' talented side.

It's a fascinating prospect, a contest that offers many intriguing sub-plots and key match-ups, and a full house is assured at St Tiernach's Park for a compelling climax to the 2017 Ulster Football Championship.

Manager Mickey Harte said Down have proven they are a force once again, through their outstanding performance in the shock semi-final win over Monaghan.

"Down can play good football, they have beaten Armagh and they have beaten Monaghan in the semi-final, so I don't think we can wait any more and say that this is a big surprise that Down are a formidable team," he said.

"They have proven that now, by having two wins behind them, and tradition and history would say that when Down teams get on a roll, they get better every time.

"So if Down get better, as they generally do, then we know what we have to deal with in the final."

Harte added that the element of surprise has gone, and that while he knows what to expect on Sunday, the Mourne challenge will be a formidable one at St Tiernach's Park.

"The surprise element is gone. If people are still going to be surprised by the quality of Down, then they haven't been looking anywhere this last couple of games.

"It has always been a battle between us and them, because they have a strong tradition of playing quality football and the evidence is there."

Harte has warned his players to be ready to expect the unexpected when they take on the resurgent Mournemen men this weekend.

"Every game is a new game, every day is a new day. Sometimes it's very small things that turn the course of a game.

"I have seen this many, many times. It may look innocuous enough, somebody mishandled a ball or passed the ball to the wrong person at the wrong time, and it just changed the script, that the other team went up and got a goal. From there on, the game takes on a new complexion.

"This is what you must prepare for in a game of this nature, that it can take very little to change what's supposed to happen into what you don't want to happen.

"So that's maybe where experience comes in, that you have to think about everything and anything that can happen, and do your best to be prepared for it."

Down's win over Monaghan in the semi-final was the first big shock of the championship this year, and it was all the more surprising in light of the fact that the Farney men scored a massive win over the Mourne side in last year's championship.

"You can see a reason why people might suggest that Monaghan could have been complacent," said Harte.

"If you beat somebody by 2-20 to nine points 12 months ago, you might understand how people might think there should only be one outcome in that game.

"But on the day, Down came along with a different attitude and played to back up that attitude, and performed very well.

"And it just shows you that you can turn the tide from very far out in your favour if you go about it in the right attitude and apply yourselves the way you can do.

"Yes, it would be wrong to take away the credit from Down for performing so well, but you'd have to say as well that again, on that particular night, Monaghan would know that they could play better too."

Tyrone's semi-final victory over Donegal marked a spectacular return to form, as they crushed their north-west neighbours by 11 points at Clones.

"On that given day, I felt that we played as well as we have played in a long, long time, and Donegal under-performed," said Harte.

"So when you put those two things together, that's what really gave us the comfortable win that we had. It doesn't often happen that way, that one team is in a very good place, and excelling actually, and the other one not playing up to the standard that they normally can.

"It doesn't happen very often against top team. It happened this time, and we were the ones to benefit from that.

"I do believe it was a very, very good performance. We did a lot of things very well I do believe it was a very, very good performance. We did a lot of things very well, but again, that purple patch before half-time it's not often that we get that number of chances and we put them all away.

"You're generally missing one out of every two, or two out of three. We didn't miss any at that particular time, and that was so critical in that outcome.

"In many ways it was a mirror image of what happened to us in Ballybofey, it was four all after 22 minutes in Ballybofey, and they hit off five points without reply, really cracking scores, and we couldn't get back from that.

"Everything we touched turned to gold in that last ten, fifteen minutes before half-time, and I'm happy that it did, because it served us well.

"It was a very good performance, but we made mistakes as well, and we were opened up for a number of goal chances in that game.

"We can be better at some aspects of our play, and that is the six million dollar challenge for us now, is to get to that standard at least, plus more, for the next day, and we have to deal with that."

And Harte insisted once again that he's not concerned at the team's poor goal-scoring record. They have hit the net just once in this year's championship, after scoring only three goals in seven league games.

"People get alarmed about things that I don't necessarily get alarmed about.

I would be alarmed if we weren't creating goal chances. The worst thing of all is, if you're not creating them, you definitely won't score them.

"If you're creating them, I believe, one day, you will score them, and if you score enough points anyway, then you don't need a lot of goals.

"To me, I don't see it as a problem. We're creating opportunities, and that they're not going in in the abundance that some people think that they should, I'm not concerned.

"On that given day, I felt that we played as well as we have played in a long, long time, and Donegal under-performed.

"So when you put those two things together, that's what really gave us the comfortable win that we had.

"It doesn't often happen that way, that one team is in a very good place, and excelling actually, and the other one not playing up to the standard that they normally can.

"It doesn't happen very often against top team. It happened this time, and we were the ones to benefit from that.

"I do believe it was a very, very good performance. We did a lot of things very well I do believe it was a very, very good performance. We did a lot of things very well, but again, that purple patch before half-time it's not often that we get that number of chances and we put them all away.

"You're generally missing one out of every two, or two out of three. We didn't miss any at that particular time, and that was so critical in that outcome.

"In many ways it was a mirror image of what happened to us in Ballybofey, it was four all after 22 minutes in Ballybofey, and they hit off five points without reply, really cracking scores, and we couldn't get back from that.

"Everything we touched turned to gold in that last 10, 15 minutes before half-time, and I'm happy that it did, because it served us well. If we're getting 1-21 every day, I think we'll not be beaten too often."

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