Sports

Six-in-a-row in jeopardy for Tyrone

Thursday, 12 January 2017

THE PRESSURE is on for Dr McKenna Cup holders Tyrone, and they must defeat Ulster University at Healy Park on Saturday evening to avoid an early exit from the 2017 series.

The Red Hands need to win both of their remaining group games if they are to stand any chance of qualifying for the semi-finals of a competition they have dominated in recent seasons, winning five titles in a row.

But it's a challenge they are capable of taking on with fearless intent, and a big performance under the Saturday night lights could well re-ignite their bid for a sixth successive triumph.

“It's out of our own hands whether we qualify or not now but that's life," said Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.

“We have to live with that and all we can do is do the best we can with the last two games - if we get good results there we might go through but that's a tall ask at the minute because of the injury situation that we have on top of the people that weren't able to play today anyway.

“It's highly unlikely at this stage but we have to go on fighting for the points that are available in our next two games and if we win them and get ourselves into a position where we might be considered for a semi-final sure that would be great and if we don't then we'll have to think about what we can do for the couple of weeks when we're usually playing McKenna Cup.

“It's very critical for us. Obviously we have to win or we have no hope of qualifying. If we win it depends on score average but the bottom line is that we want to win it and the last game as well."

Harte has not given up hope of qualifying for the knock-out stages, and remains hopeful that his side can progress and ensure at least four competitive games ahead of the start of the National Football League.

“We want to win these games, we want to be in this competition as long as possible and today was a big setback towards that ambition."

Apart from the defeat in Cavan town, Tyrone suffered a heavy blow in terms of injuries, which could have a significant impact in the weeks ahead.

“That's the biggest cost of all. You have Michael Cassidy and Rory Brennan and Connor McAliskey, and Ronan O'Neill wasn't well at the end," said Harte.

“That's four players at the end of the day. You wouldn't be sure they would be available for next week, I would be certain they wouldn't all be.

“That's the most critical thing of all today. It's not nice to have that at this time of the year."

Cavan got off to a strong start, and had the holders under pressure right from the start, striking for a crucial goal in the 19th minute.

“The wind was significant there today and Cavan made good of it. I suppose they had a few points up at half-time and that gave them something to protect," said Harte.

“Then, the disjointed nature of the second half made the clock tick over faster than we would have liked although there was a lot of added time.

“The longer it goes on that you are behind those points, the team that is in the lead is in pole position. You have to hand it to Cavan, they were the better team on the day because they got more scores than we did. They were more efficient than we were and you can look for all sorts of excuses but there are no excuses here.

“We created plenty in the first half, I think we had five short and four wide. And if you get no return from nine attacks it is not hard to see how you could be five down.

“We didn't take control of the game either. As I say, it was a very disjointed game and we got a point early in the second half and had another eight or ten minutes there was no change from our part on the scoreboard. That's a thing we have to think about and reflect on.

“It's not about us playing bad, I think Cavan played very well today, they were up for the game, they were keen from the off and you have to hand it to them, they played a good game today."

A handful of newcomers got their chance, and will feature again against UU nad Donegal as Harte searches for a winning blend for 2017.

“They are in here to see what they can do at a competitive level and that was competitive today. We have to take time to reflect on that.

“I think they learn from these games, they learn what is required to play at this level. I think they contribute well at times and I think they show their inexperience at times as well.

“But I think that happened to a lot of players today. Maybe it's early season syndrome where you are not at the top of your game, you have not enough ball handling skills done under pressure and people are making some elementary mistakes.

“But again, we had enough chances to get a better result from that game and we did not take them, so there are a lot of reasons why we did not win and it was a cumulative effect of why we did not win."

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