MICKEY Harte has labelled Meath ‘a Championship-hardened County’ who will have few hang-ups about tackling Tyrone in this Saturday’s intriguing All-Ireland Qualifier tussle at Navan.
The draw for the first round of the ‘back-door’ ties could have been kinder for the wounded Red Hands, keen to rediscover the winning habit after their disappointing Ulster Championship exit at the hands of Monaghan a fortnight
While the Royals clearly aren’t the force they were back in their halcyon days of the 80s and 90s when they clinched four All-Irelands, they have traditionally proved obdurate opposition for Tyrone even during more recent lean times.
Case in point was the last clash in Round Two of the Qualifiers in 2015 when Tyrone were pushed to the pins of their collar in Omagh before eventually prevailing by a two point margin (1-10 to 0-11), Peter Harte’s penalty goal the pivotal score.
Harte of course will be suspended for this Saturday’s meeting at Pairc Tailteann, having been sent off in the closing stages of the Farney loss, while ace attackers Lee Brennan and Mark Bradley are also non-starters.
Their absence is a major blow to Tyrone heading into what Mickey Harte views as a hugely daunting fixture down in Navan.
“They are a championship hardened County over the years.
“They have a tradition of being hard to beat in the championship and their home ground in Navan is a bit of a plus to them in terms that they seem to be very hard to beat down there.
“We know that from playing them a few years ago in the league as well when it wasn’t easy and we got out of it with a few points to spare. It was a challenge the whole way.
“People talk about Leinster football and Dublin being ahead of all the rest and maybe expecting more in Leinster championship terms from the likes of Kildare and Meath which maybe hasn’t materialised in recent years, but when you see the name of Meath there is always a championship tradition with them.
“They don’t have any great worries about Tyrone as they have played them a number of years since the eighties even and acquitted themselves well.
“Some counties might see Tyrone as a big task but I don’t feel that will be the case with Meath.
“I think that they will come into it confident that maybe this could redeem their season after their I
suppose surprise defeat by Longford.”
While naturally dejected at failing to hang onto the Anglo-Celt Cup, the Tyrone manager stresses that there was little time for his squad to wallow in self-pity given the do-or die nature of the Qualifiers which are now looming.
“People are obviously 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, you have to challenge.
“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. When you are looking ahead to the McKenna Cup on January again you wouldn’t want to be doing that from June 9th.”
FULL STORY IN THURSDAY’S ULSTER HERALD AND DUNGANNON HERALD