Tomás Ó Sé: Why I would have loved to have played for Mickey Harte
Tyrone manager's ability to stay relevant marks him out as one of the greatest
You know when I was playing I used to flat out hate the Tyrone boys. If they were at the All-Stars or some another function, I'd go the other side of the room. I'd duck and I'd dive and I'd dodge them like the plague.
That sounds silly now, a grown man skulking around a room avoiding other fellas he probably has loads in common with. But that's the way it was. It was easier to hate them because when it came to a game, I reasoned I might need that fuel.
I'd say they knew what I was at too and they probably formed their own opinions on me based on that. But there was none of them coming across the room to me either. There as a barrier between our two teams. I think that was the way we both liked it early on.
And I suppose the extension of that was I was no fan of Mickey Harte's either. I knew almost nothing of him at the time but his teams were tough. Tough to the point where they were more than capable of crossing the line in any way they had to win. And you know maybe we saw too much of ourselves in them for us to get on right away.
For most of the early 2000s, Mickey and Tyrone remained something of an unknown to me. But I remember I was on the 2005 International Rules squad and I got to know a few of the Tyrone boys then. They were serious about their football but great men for porter when they got the chance too. Wild lads, great craic. I liked them instantly.
And here they were led by a softly-spoken Pioneer.
Now I've been lucky enough to get in with some great managers. Jack, Eamonn, Pat O'Shea, PO, they all had their own ways of getting through to people and the end result was the same - they were winners.
And I've often thought that it would have been great to be in a dressing room with the likes of Micko, Billy Morgan, Seán Boylan and Brian Cody.
But if you were to ask me right now, I'd love to have played for Mickey Harte. I looked at the video of him coming into the Tyrone dressing room with the Anglo Celt Cup after the Ulster final.
And the room just erupts and one lad turns Mickey's hat backwards like he was a rapper.
I can't imagine how Mickey gets through to his current team of young fellas. They must be so different to the young Tyrone lads he started out with back in the 1990s. But he does. And in that clip their respect for him is absolute but the affection is genuine.
To be still relevant after all this time is amazing. His longevity is incredible, especially considering how much change the game has seen in his period in charge.
Of the Tyrone team I played against, some of them had Mickey as their minor manager. And that they were still listening to him as they ticked into their 30s speaks volumes about the man.
Now that I know Mickey a bit better I can say he is a gentleman. But his teams were anything but gentle. They were quare animals to play against.
Now they got loads of stick for how they played. Always on the edge and a little over it at times if they felt it was necessary. I'm sure Mickey could have reined his boys in at any stage, but he didn't. He saw that edge was what made them. And it was hard to equalise this nice man with the teams he was putting out on the field.
I remember doing a Q and A session with him before an All-Ireland final a couple of years ago. The crowd were there a bit before us and had a few pints on board by the time we got going.
Some fella piped up with a question that I remember wasn't too complimentary of Tyrone. And Mickey quietly filleted him with his answer. And I smiled to myself. Finally I had seen the same sort of steel that made up his teams.
You see Mickey's teams are a reflection of himself. He's as driven a competitor as I've seen outside of Kerry. And that's why they've done what they have under him.
One of the hardest things to do in the GAA is to swim against the tide of tradition. And his Tyrone teams broke their glass ceiling in 2003.
And they followed it up by winning two more. We had a bloody good team at that time but we could never turn them.
We did get them eventually in 2012 down in Killarney but at that stage both our teams had seen their best days. I remember being very proud that evening of the reception Mickey got after the game.
We all knew the personal tragedy he and his family had endured earlier that year. He holds a huge amount of respect in Kerry.
And he's back now with another team. And Jesus if he was to work the oracle for a fourth time he'd sit in any conversation about the great GAA managers of all time. In fact, he's probably there already.
Their game plan is good, they are loaded with pace and have the edge to them that all good teams have.
But I have to say I'm not totally sold on them yet. I haven't seen enough in them to suggest they can win three big games on the bounce from here and take the All-Ireland.
Their game with Mayo is the one that holds most interest for me this evening. And what way Mayo approach this is a tricky one for them.
They know you just have to commit bodies to get beyond the Tyrone defence and turn them. You need runners coming in pods to get past the Tyrone's defensive wall and create scoring opportunities. But that's risky for Mayo too.
If it breaks down then Tyrone have you exactly where they want you - caught up the field with an ocean of space to run into. And by God they'll run into it. Their counter-attack is frighteningly quick.
So Mayo will have to be both patient and efficient. Tyrone thrive on things like turnovers and wides so the likes of Cillian O'Connor and Evan Regan will have to take almost everything that comes their way.
Those two will be key because there's no one better at squeezing the life out of inside forwards than Tyrone.
But you know I think there is a kick in Mayo yet. They have ambled to this point. And now they can just about the see the summit they have been trying to scale for the past few years.
That should liven them. Let's face it, losing here is unthinkable for this group of Mayo players. And God knows they shouldn't be short on motivation given how close they have been in the past and how the winter went for them.
So I think they'll produce a level of something that we haven't seen from them so far.
They just have to.
Because if they don't you can be sure Mickey will have his boys ready to pounce.