Harte: No easy draw in Ulster Championship

With the ghosts of his Tyrone side's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Cork all but abated by the recent 2010 draw, Mickey Harte is looking cautiously ahead to next year's Ulster Championship opener against old foes Antrim.

In what will be a repeat of last year's Ulster final, Harte states the days of an easy draw in Ulster are long gone.

"We've always said there is no easy draw in Ulster. It is the most competitive province," said the Red Hands boss.

"Before this, Antrim would have been seen as the poor relation. On last year's performance they certainly are not. They got to the Ulster final and they pushed Kerry well (in the qualifiers)."

The appointment of Derry man Liam Bradley as Antrim manager in late 2008 yielded a first win over Donegal at Ballybofey since 1952. It also brought about a first Ulster final appearance in 39 years for the Saffrons.

"They have found a new status for themselves whereas two or three years ago this would have been seen potentially as an easy draw, but it isn't anymore," Harte admitted.

"I think we have to face them at Casement Park as well, so we will have to have our minds well focused right away."

With last year's resurgence of football in Antrim, Monaghan the year previous and Fermanagh in the early 2000s, Harte believes the Ulster title is anyone's for the taking.

"It seems to be the case that there is a greater ambition within every county in Ulster to believe that they can win the provincial title.

"Maybe the other provinces leave it to two or three current form teams and they say, 'they are going to win it, the rest of us aren't going to be there.'

"It's not like that in Ulster," continued Harte who knows underestimating Antrim could mean an early exit from the Ulster Championship for Tyrone.

"It doesn't matter who you play, on any given day anyone can beat anybody else. That has been proven over the last number of years.

"It is a very difficult draw for us. You would nearly be better getting Armagh, Derry or Monaghan and people would be saying that this is a very difficult draw.

"Whereas in the people's psyche, those who don't know better will say Antrim is not the toughest draw you could get. On last year's form, it certainly is one of the toughest draws."

After losing to Tyrone in the Ulster final, Antrim had a goal chance that could have turned their fourth round qualifier against Kerry in their favour.

As it happened, Saffrons attacker James Loughrey fired straight at Diarmuid Murphy and Kerry went on to win by five.

"We have to give them due credit for what they did last year. We can't look at them as the team they were two or three years ago, when they were in a bit of a disarray and really not getting anywhere.

"They made serious progress last year and the challenge for them is to build on that."

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