Tyrone boss lashes out ahead of Donegal clash
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has lent a new dimension to the Ulster Championship with a blistering salvo in relation to the implementation of the black card and advantage rules to date this year.
As his team prepare to take on Donegal in a sell-out preliminary round tie tomorrow, Harte pulls no punches in urging that the GAA authorities should address these issues.
And he takes Joe Brolly - a 1993 All-Ireland winner with Derry and now a high-profile pundit - to task for suggesting kick-outs must go beyond the 45m line and only two midfielders from each team may be allowed in the middle of the field, between the two 45s, before the ball lands.
Brolly has been outspoken on the vexed issue of ultra-defensive tactics and is emerging as a leading light in campaigning for the emphasis to be put on attacking play.
Harte, less than impressed with some refereeing decisions during the Allianz League when his side were relegated, stresses that what he sees as the non-application of the black card rule "is a joke if it wasn't so serious".
And he is adamant that referees can have a big influence in determining the outcome of games.
"A referee can make a decision which gives one side an unfair advantage and this can change the course of a game," said Harte.
"And in relation to the black card the manner in which it has not been properly implemented is a joke if it wasn't so serious."
"I think it's time things like this were looked at and I also believe that Joe Brolly's proposal would be very difficult to implement. Much is made of kick-outs in the modern game as we all know but I don't think there is any quick-fix to this situation."
Harte's broadside will certainly heap further pressure on referees during the Ulster Championship and it's perhaps just as well that the Ulster Council in its wisdom has turned to experienced Cavan whistler Joe McQuillan to take charge of tomorrow's Donegal v Tyrone clash.
With Tyrone anxious to end the dominance which the current Ulster champions have held over them in recent seasons and Donegal themselves strongly focused on retaining their provincial crown in Rory Gallagher's first year in charge, the match has assumed the equivalent of a confrontation between an irresistible force and an immovable object.
Be that as it may, Harte clearly has faith in his side despite their travails in the league, suggesting that this is the ideal time for them to come good.
He has handed a huge responsibility to Padraig McNulty in midfield, given Mattie Donnelly the role of playmaker at centre-three-quarters and charged Ronan McNamee and Justin McMahon with serving as the twin pillars in a defence in which goalkeeper Michael O'Neill will be making his Ulster Championship debut.
If McNulty and Colm Cavanagh can manage to ply their full-forward line of Darren McCurry, Sean Cavanagh and Connor McAliskey with a generous supply of possession, there is no doubt that Tyrone have the capacity to rack up scores.
Harte is fully aware, though, that Donegal's voracious hunger will make them dangerous opponents tomorrow.
Manager Rory Gallagher has been talking up Tyrone but not to the extent that he feels his side are vulnerable.
Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty form a lethal twin strike force, Neil Gallagher is one of the best midfielders in the country, the McGee brothers Eamon and Neil are solid defensive pillars and Karl Lacey and Ryan McHugh bring subtlety and style to the table.
And even though he has spent recent years as Jim McGuinness's able No 2, manager Gallagher concedes that he is keen to make his own impact in "the here and now" as he puts it although he admits that this will be far from easy.
"When you look at the teams on our side of the draw in the Ulster Championship they are all among the top dozen sides in the country," muses Harte. "But we're not looking any further ahead than Tyrone tomorrow. You are judged by what happens in the here and now."
Silken skills and exquisite flair are likely to be sacrificed in favour of hard, unrelenting graft, a frenetic work-rate from both sides and the deployment of defensive mechanisms that are likely to leave the rest of us intrigued if not totally perplexed.
That's the way the game has gone - and it will surprise no one if by tomorrow evening Joe McQuillan is not a figure of controversy despite his own best efforts to avoid this.
That, too, is the way the game has gone - just ask Mickey Harte.
Donegal have left talismanic forward Colm McFadden out of the team to play Tyrone tomorrow, with his place taken by debutant Hugh McFadden.Marty O'Reilly is the other championship newcomer in their side.
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, M McElhinney; M O'Reilly, O MacNiallais, C Toye; P McBrearty, M Murphy, H McFadden
Subs: M Boyle, E Doherty, A Thompson, C McFadden, M McHugh, D Walsh, D McLaughlin, C McGinley, G McFadden, E McHugh, S Griffin
Tyrone: M O'Neill, A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron, R McNabb, Justin McMahon, P Harte, C Cavanagh, P McNulty, T McCann, M Donnelly, B Tierney, D McCurry, S Cavanagh, C McAliskey
Subs: N Morgan, R Brennan, M Bradley, C Clarke, P Hughes, D McBride, C McCann, R McKenna, Joe McMahon, C McShane, R O'Neill