Mickey Harte has been involved in many big days with his county, and it was during his reign that Tyrone’s rivalry with the Orchard County was at its peak. Once again the Red Hands will clash with their neighbours in a winner takes all contest on Wednesday evening, a spot in the McKenna Cup semi finals the prize on offer.
It’s a repeat of the last year’s showpiece, which also took place in the Athletic Grounds, with Tyrone coming out on top to win a close contest, 0-16 to 0-14. Mickey Harte expects a similar tough game tomorrow evening and believes it provides his side with the perfect preparation for the league.
“It’s going to be competitive, we know that from the final last year and we’ve been watching Armagh, they’ve been making steady improvement. They’re back being very competitive again and it’s always competitive when they meet Tyrone anyway.”
“I think it’s a good way to start because it’s going to be competitive and we both want to be competitive as we go into the national league.”
While the rivalry hasn’t reached the heights it did in the mid noughties, over 11,000 people gathered into the Athletic Grounds last season to see the two side battle.
With both teams winning their opening round games and a ‘winner takes all’ feel surrounding the game, tomorrow’s attendance could be something similar.
Almost 20,000 turned out to see the their clash back in the 2006 McKenna Cup and while Harte believes the teams can get back to the those heights, it’s hard to imagine such a crowd ever being seen again so early in the season, “I don’t think we’ll ever get a crowd like that for a long time again but I think it can (get back to heights of 2006).”
“There’s always sizeable crowds when we play Armagh, whether it’s in the Athletic Grounds or Omagh it doesn’t matter.”
“We’ve been in the Athletic Grounds a lot of the time and we enjoy going there, we know it very well. It’s a tough group, Cavan ourselves and Armagh, there’s no easy touch there at all.”
The three time All-Ireland winning manager has shared the sideline with Kieran McGeeney before, both as Kildare and Armagh manager, and Harte has huge respect for his opponent, “Kieran’s a solid fella and he’s been very dedicated to Armagh football as a player and now as a manager and he’s a nice guy to meet on the line.”
“He’s very competitive and all the rest but he can talk to you before and after it, that’s the main thing. I enjoy playing Armagh because I know you’ll get a good, competitive game; there’ll be plenty of edge to it and the players like that.”
“It means you are getting ready for the real, serious competition that’s coming up after it. It’s better than going into some game that you can just waltz about a bit and play a bit here and there, it’s better to be in a group where there are good standards demanded.”
Tyrone are the kingpins of the McKenna Cup under Harte, and his philosophy of winning every game has quite often led to success further in the year. Things aren’t about to change this year and Harte once again targets a semi final position, hoping to build momentum heading into the league.
“I’d like that semi final, I’d like that third match and that’s our target. We want three games and whoever you get in the semi final will be decent now too because it’s all county teams that are there and whoever comes out of the group, they’re going to be decent.”