Sports

Red Hands Ready For Derry Derby

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A BIG derby clash with Derry launches Tyrone's championship challenge for 2017 as they begin the defence of their Ulster SFC title at Celtic Park on Sunday.

The Red Hands go in as firm favourites to emerge with a win, but question marks remain over their form, following a disappointing end to the league campaign.

But following an eight-week break and a positive and morale-boosting training schedule, confidence is high in the camp that they can hit form on the big day.

It's a repeat of last year's first round clash at the same venue, which Tyrone won comfortably, and a big crowd of travelling support expects more of the same this weekend.

But manager Mickey Harte is treading carefully, and with a semi-final clash with Donegal awaiting the winners, he insisted he is looking no further than this weekend's opener.

“We wouldn't look that far ahead for sure. If we were to talk about anybody other than Derry at the moment we would be very foolish," he said.

“We would not even think beyond this game. People might say that's blasť, or that's politically correct, but it's a fact.

“It's a fact that if we thought about anything other than playing Derry in Celtic Park, we would be on a foolish road, and we wouldn't have to worry about playing anybody in the semi-final, because Derry would be in it."

And he believes Derry's relegation to Division Three of the National Football League is irrelevant.

“That's history now, that's over, that's done with. This is the Championship, it's a new ball game and we're all looking forward to this part of the season.

“Ultimately this is what we play for, we play for this time of the year, and Derry will be no different.

“People must not overlook the fact that Derry had a bad start last year in the Championship when we beat them in Celtic Park, and yet they were a kick of the ball from ending up in the All-Ireland semi-final, just like Tipperary.

"So that's what Derry have to offer. Certainly on days they haven't performed as well as they would like to, and they got some bad results, but they had to have some very good results to end up where they did, and they did do that last year.

“That's the kind of people that we have to deal with, so we won't be narrow-minded enough to think that it's about their last result or last couple of results.

“Derry are like everybody else, there's a bit of transition taking place within the team."

Harte added: "They're at home again, they are definitely smarting from last year's result, because the nature of the defeat was not expected.

“We were probably expected to win, but not expected to win by as much as we did or as comprehensively as we did in the first half.

“So they have got to do something about that, and this is where they get the chance. They're probably delighted to get the chance to get at us again so quickly after last year, so we have to be on our guard."

Defenders Cathal McCarron and Justin McMahon are doubts for the trip to the Maiden City, but Declan McClure has recovered from a knee injury and is set to make his championship debut.

Harte is looking forward to another big day as he begins his 15th championship campaign.

“We're delighted to be part of it again, and to me, it's as exciting and as interesting as the first one I ever took part in in 2003 for the Tyrone seniors.

“Going right back to the Minors in '91, I just loved championship days. There's something about the Ulster Championship that's just special.

“People say that you just say that because you're from Ulster and we always talk it up. But I don't believe that. I think it is special, and there's no feeling like those Championship days.

“It's great when it's a sunny day, and that's the way you always think if it. It may be raining some days, but we think of a sunshine day, at some wonderful ground in Ulster, and the Championship is on. That is the place to be."

The Tyrone-Derry derby may not feature the intensity and fierce rivalry that it once did, but the Red Hands are never short of a neighbourly clash to excite the passions.

“We're a strange county in many ways, that we have so many derbies. We border so many other counties," said Harte.

“It depends where you live, whether it's Fermanagh, whether it's Donegal or Derry, Armagh or Monaghan.

“There are so many derbies, and that's part of where we're positioned within the province and within the country.

“It's good to have all those derbies, because it excites the public and excites the players."

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