THE prospect of playing a high-octane Ulster Championship match every fortnight over the next few months doesn’t faze Mickey Harte or his squad, the long serving Tyrone manager insists.
The Red Hands take their bow in the provincial race this Sunday when they welcome rank outsiders Derry to Healy Park in the preliminary round.
The condensed schedule of matches in Ulster again this season means that should Tyrone prevail this weekend they will be back in action just thirteen days later (Saturday May 25) against Antrim in the first round proper, and if successful there they would tackle either Fermanagh or Donegal in the semi-final just a fortnight after that.
It’s all a far cry from the old days when the Ulster Championship programme was padded out over two and a half months but Harte is content enough with the shorter turnaround, even if it does test a team’s resources to the maximum.
“As long as you get a fortnight, it’s not bad, because sometimes waiting too long on a game is not really good either, because it’s very hard to tailor the intensity of your training if you have a four or six week period between a game.
“You never really use these four weeks to build, build, build, so it’s nearly better in a way, as long as you have enough room to recover and get ready for the next game. I think two weeks is a nice break.
“It will test your resources, because with games coming as steady as that, inevitably you pick up a few injuries here and there.
“But I wouldn’t be particularly worried about it, we played a lot of league games in a short period of time, we played five McKenna Cup games in a month, so we’re used to games close after each other and I don’t think the players will be too worried about that.”
Last weekend’s scare for Galway against London highlighted the need for any top tier team to be on their guard, even when tackling Division Four opposition.
Harte though feels that a county of Derry’s proud heritage and tradition should never have been operating at the lowest level to begin with.
“It’s obvious that the constant availability of the Slaughtneil players was very useful to them. I think if they had that luxury last year, they wouldn’t have been in Division Four for a start, because that makes up a serious part of their team.
“They gave them that stability and that experience and the confidence as well, through Division Four, so I would definitely say if those players had been available last year to the same extent, they wouldn’t have been in that division at all.
“It’s a false position they were in, we all know that. They were never a Division Four team.
“The fact is that’s where they played their football this year, so probably they didn’t get challenged as much as I would hope they’ll get challenged when we play them.
“They believe that they’re a much better outfit than the division they played in, and I suppose the ranking that they’ve got at the moment within the country.
“And they’ve had to live with that, because in the previous couple of seasons, they didn’t do well enough in the league to stay in the higher divisions.
“So I think they’re honest and realistic enough to know that that’s what brought them to where they were, but also confident enough to know that that’s not a true reflection of where they ought to be.
“They have work to do, they’re a work in progress, they’re a developing side, and I think in time they’ll be serious operators.”
FULL STORY IN THURSDAY’S PAPER