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Red Hands chasing All-Ireland dream

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

TYRONE are back in the big-time, and they stand just 70 minutes away from a first All-Ireland final appearance since 2008.
They head to Croke Park this weekend to take on Monaghan, with a massive prize at stake for the winners of an intriguing all-Ulster semi-final.
It's a repeat of the Ulster SFC first round tie, which the Farney men won at Monaghan, and now the Red Hands have a golden opportunity to reverse that bitterly disappointing result and take a step closer to a fourth Sam Maguire Cup triumph.
“This is a huge match next week," said manager Mickey Harte, who must get his team ready to play another massive game just seven days after a bruising Super 8s vicgory over Donegal.
“There are only seven days so we can enjoy this for seven hours if we are lucky. After that, it's down to basics and prepare for the next game."
Harte says his players must make the opportunity count and get themselves to the showpiece occasion, as the good times get set to roll again in the Red Hand county.
“This is just a stepping stone to the semi-final of the All-Ireland. That can be a difficult place to be because beaten semi-finalists are forgotten very quickly, so this is a huge match. We can enjoy this win, but after that it's about getting down to basics again.
“We seem to have the capacity to come through the All-Ireland Qualifiers, but I wouldn't like to be depending on that and would still like to be winning a few Ulster titles. There is something about this backdoor which our team embraces, and they learn from the defeats.
“I hope that we're in good shape, but I've no doubt that Monaghan are as well. They haven't stood still and have found out things about themselves. Both teams have improved since the first round of the Ulster championship and we have more ground to make up than us.
“They were comprehensive victors over Galway and it was no mean feat to go to Galway who have been in the National League Final and are very highly rated. But Monaghan went about their business comprehensively."
Tyrone will take massive confidence from the strength of their finish at Ballybofey, where they came from four points behind to win by seven and secure qualification from the Super 8s.
“Sometimes you can finish as strong as that and not get the scores you want, but we did get the scores along with it as well. I suppose the big thing was that we managed the fact that we had the sucker blow before half-time of their goal and a point after it," said Harte.
"We came back with points ourselves and it was evident that we weren't going to lie down, it was going to be a battle to the end - and we felt if it was a battle to the end we've been through enough good battles this year to maybe be in a better position to deal with it.
“We've had our hurts, we've had our defeats, we've had our near misses, and we just knew that today we really had to try to make history for ourselves - and I think we've done that."
And the manager will be hoping his bench can once again make a massive impact at Croke Park on Sunday.
“That's it - it's a hit and miss job because you want to introduce people to make a difference in the game and, through the Qualifiers, we've discovered how important that is.
“There are people who didn't start the game today who are worthy to be on the team but they are also big enough to play for the team and come in knowing that they're going to make a difference. If you started them, you wouldn't be sure that the people that you would be leaving off could come in and make the same impact.
“There are players who are good at that - obviously Kieran McGeary stands out as a really quality player at that particular role. But all the people we introduced gave us a contribution and that's all we wanted off them, something to make a difference. It was a really good team performance."
Harte was disappointed to go in at half-time trailing by three points, having competed strongly with Donegal in the first half.
"Yeah, we felt we were in control for more of that half than the scoreline suggested at half-time - it was a sucker blow all right to us and it was difficult.
"But there was still a resilience in the changing room. We knew that this was not 'throw in the towel' time, this didn't need to be like it was here a few times before, we could change the script. The boys were very, very resilient in their attempts to do that."
Meanwhile, Donegal manager Declan Bonner spoke of the devastation in the home dressing room following a seven points loss to Tyrone.
"It came right down to the wire in today's game, in a Championship atmosphere, a local derby. We are disappointed, it is a very disappointed dressing room in there.
"There are a lot of young players in there. I'm sure they will learn a lot from it. We will sit back and analyse the situation but yeah, from our point of view it has been a very good season but we are just disappointed," he said.
"When you set your targets and set your goals, but at the same time when you come into this game, this game was winnable, we had no fear going into this game, if we played to the level we knew we were capable of doing, and avoided those mistakes in terms of getting turned over you had a big chance, and ultimately that's what let us down."
Bonner was left to rue chances that his players failed to take early in the second half.
"We had chances, and it's so quick at the end of the match, we will sit down as a management team and analyse that and the whole season. A huge disappointment in there now but it has been a hugely positive season and we have to build on that there, have to learn from that type of game."
Now it's Tyrone who go through to take on Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final, and Bonner expects a cracking Croke Park contest.
"Monaghan have been impressive all year. I watched them that day in Omagh and they were impressive. It sets up a cracking match next week. We were hoping to be there but it's going to be a hum-dinger of an Ulster affair.
"I think it will come down to the wire. Monaghan are a very experienced side, a very seasoned side and themselves and Tyrone are much further down the line than we are. And from our point of view we are going to concentrate on ourselves and see where we can make the progress in 2019."
Bonner added: "The way the game is going, we are always looking for more players. We will be trawling, taking a look to see what is available to us but as I say, a lot of these young boys, hopefully they can learn from that there."

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