Mickey Harte says defeat in Navan tomorrow would be a ‘horrible’ end to Tyrone’s season.
The depleted Red Hands face a battle for survival against a Royals side desperate for its own shot at redemption following a tame Leinster Championship exit.
“The way things have been brought forward this season, this would be a horrible time to go out of the All-Ireland series, early in June, that would make it a very long winter,” said Harte.
And he feels the proud championship tradition of the Royal county will make them fiercely difficult opponents in front of their own supporters at Páirc Tailteann.
“They’re a championship-hardened county over years, they have a tradition of being hard to beat in the championship, and I suppose Navan, their home ground, probably is a plus to them. They seem to be very hard to beat down there, and we know that from playing them a few years ago in the league as well. It wasn’t easy, we got out of it with a few points to spare, but it was a challenge. People talk about expecting more from the likes of Meath and Kildare in championship football, but when you see the name of Meath, you know that there’s a championship tradition with them.
But Harte’s openly expressed concerns are tempered by a confidence that his players have come to terms with their failure to challenge for a third successive provincial title after their shock defeat to Monaghan.
“People are disappointed because we intended to go on to a semi-final and try and challenge for a third Ulster title. That didn’t happen so that is disappointing no doubt but people come back again after that and just say ‘look, we have to roll up our sleeves, this is it now, this is last chance saloon’.”
Tyrone’s record in the qualifiers is one source of optimism for a county that has won two All-Ireland titles via the backdoor route.
“It is great to get that second chance. As counties go, maybe because we have been in it so often, but we have a decent record in the qualifiers, it is up there with the best of them. We shouldn’t fear the fact that we are on this journey. The important one in all of these is the first game after you are beaten (in your province). You just have to get back and get a bit of form together and get that result because that is so important, that one result gets you back to winning ways and there is then a fortnight until the next game.
“That is why this is a critical game in the rest of the season. Obviously if you lose that is bad news entirely but if you get over this game, regardless of what is coming down the line or anything else, if you get over this first game and get a bit of confidence back into the players again, have played a knockout game where a result is of no other use only a win, that’s a good place to be.”
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