Tyrone’s Peter Harte has an uncomplicated relationship with the sport that has made him a household name.
The joy comes easily to the Errigal Ciarán man once he steps onto the grass, be it Croke Park or Garvaghey, or the field at Dunmoyle in the rolling hills above Ballygawley.
Celtic Park will be his stage this weekend, and the All-Star intends to indulge himself once more at the venue where his goal helped fell the Oaks a year ago.
“It’s a great time of year to be involved. It has never changed for me since I was young. The enjoyment has always been there,” he said.
“You probably enjoy it a wee bit more when you’re being successful and you’re involved in successful teams. But, just to be fit, and to be privileged to play for your club and for your county, it’s unbelievable.
“So many people unfortunately, due to health or due to other circumstances, don’t get the possibility to do it, and to be able to do it is something I don’t think I will ever take for granted. And I think as you do get on in years, you probably understand that a wee bit more, that you are in a privileged position.
“There’s probably that bit more stress or worry about performances, or playing well and doing your best. But that’s what drives you on.”
Now 26 and an established member of the Tyrone team for eight seasons, Harte feels he could easily endure for another eight. He’s living the dream as a county footballer, and loving every moment of it.
“Thank God I have been injury-free for most of that time. when you look at the likes of Sean (Cavanagh), still doing it at age 34, 35. It you were able to do that, it would be great. If not, you have to enjoy the time you do have playing and try to make the most of it.
“That’s what everyone sets out at the start of the year to do, to try to make the most of the season and get the most out of it as they can.”
It was a stroll in Celtic Park last year as they easily brushed aside Derry’s weak challenge on their way to a first Ulster title in six years. They’re favourites to repeat that result, but Harte warned that they must be well prepared for an Oak Leaf side under pressure to restore pride.
“Every year is different. No two years in the Ulster Championship are alike, no two years in any championship are alike. No two matches are alike, and the match could take on a life of its own. Parts of it will be similar, bur as for the game itself, I have never played somebody twice and it’s gone the same way. Derry are always dangerous. Derry have as good footballers as anybody. You just have to look at what Slaughtneil did, and they were very unlucky not to win an All-Ireland club title.
“They’re good footballers, and a first round championship game in Celtic Park is a one-off game. We’ll be very focused going in there to get the performance right.
“Last year was great, but it’s over now. That was 2016, this is a brand new season, as you saw from the league, teams have already changed a bit, new personnel, new styles of play. We’ll just be hoping to do our best in 2017, and look no further than Derry in Celtic Park.”
The Red Hands hit the net three times in the first half of last year’s Ulster Championship opener against Derry, but goals have been a scarce commodity ever since.
They scored just one in their opening six league games, before Harte netted twice against Kerry.
“I think the top teams in the country do get goals and get goals regularly, and if you do get them, especially in championship games, that can often be the difference. They can be a momentum changer in a game,” he said.
“We have been working on plenty of things, and our forward play in general has been something we have been trying to address over the last few weeks.”
The Red Hands’ NFL challenge fell apart in the latter stages, finishing with three straight defeats, but Harte believes the team is in a better place this season, having risen from Division 2 to mix it with the country’s top teams.
“Division 1 is the best place to be in that early time of the year, February, March and April, because it’s where you learn the most. In Division 2 last year, in our last couple of games, we qualified for Division 1, we were in the league final, you probably didn’t get the same learning as you would against the likes of Kerry, Mayo or Donegal.
“We have to take the positives from it. There were things that didn’t go well for us, we have to learn from it, but it’s much better learning and finding those things out and trying to put them right in March and April, rather than July or August.”
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