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Mickey Harte: I have faith in my ability to revitalise Tyrone

By Declan Bogue

Published 02/08/2016

Still going strong: Mickey Harte won the Ulster crown in his 25th year at the helm of a Tyrone county side
Still going strong: Mickey Harte won the Ulster crown in his 25th year at the helm of a Tyrone county side
Tiernan McCann

The week of another big Tyrone game begins with some comforting, familiar sights; the pristine pitches of Garvaghy, home to Club Tyrone, and public relations officer Eunan Lindsay directing operations at the county media day ahead of Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo.

And then there's Mickey Harte, the most familiar sight of all. What would the Tyrone team be like now if some had got their way and he had been replaced over the winter after a difficult couple of years?

In any case, he forced their hands. Shortly after their season ended, he gathered up his players and backroom staff and began to prepare for 2016.

Did he ever doubt that he would be back at this stage?

More: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte wants to tear up black card rule

"I didn't have any doubts. Somebody else here and there was trying to create a bit of doubt. But I didn't have any," Harte told me.

Asked whether he was surprised with the views of some, he replied: "I don't know if surprised is the right word. There could be other words like disappointed. I thought it should have been more than the way it turned out, the whole affair. It became a bit unwieldy, more public than it needed to be."

So when the clubs of Tyrone voted overwhelmingly to retain him for the 2016 campaign, it brought his involvement with Red Hand county teams to 25 years.

In the early years he had little success with his minor sides. If the county board wanted rid of him then, they wouldn't have had to look far for reasons. After all, Harte was the man who stood outside their annual conventions in the picket line demanding that his breakaway club of Glencull be accepted as a unit of the GAA, only to be rebuffed year after year.

While the board showed patience, Harte showed persistence.

Two weeks ago, he was a champion once again when he won his fifth Ulster title as Tyrone manager against Donegal.

A couple of days later, Peter Canavan reminded us all that, "not that long ago, disgruntled players were leaving the squad and Mickey was also coming under pressure from sections of the county board after some poor performances".

Last April, Paddy McNeice, Dwayne Quinn, Emmet McKenna, PJ Lavery and Shay McGuigan walked off the panel, some citing a lack of game time.

That sort of thing wasn't unheard of in Tyrone, but it was certainly less commonplace than in other counties.

However, Tiernan McCann believes that rather than becoming a disruption, it had the opposite effect as they made it to an All-Ireland semi-final, in which they were defeated by Kerry.

"I think it brought the panel closer together. There were only 30 players on the panel as opposed to 35 or 36," McCann said.

In Sean Cavanagh's victory speech after the Ulster final, alongside the names of former Tyrone players Paul McGirr and Cormac McAnallen, he also mentioned Mickey's daughter Michaela, tragically taken from the world in January 2011.

Incredibly, this was Tyrone's first major trophy since that terrible event, and McCann revealed that her memory is kept alive along with that of McGirr, who died following a collision after scoring a goal for Mickey's minor side against Armagh, and former captain McAnallen.

"We're always thinking of them," said the Killyclogher man.

"Tyrone has had its tragedies over the years and no man knows that more than Mickey. It galvanises the group.

"Mickey's son Mick is the physio on the team and Mickey has his grandchildren in there after every game, they're good craic to have about."

While others outside the group were almost talking of Harte as yesterday's man prior to that impressive charge to the All-Ireland semi-final, McCann states that the group's faith in their manager never wavered.

"When we were relegated last year there were a lot of people saying this Tyrone isn't anywhere near the teams of the past," he said. "Now, 16 months down the line, we're Ulster champions."

How to harness that confidence without letting it spill over to hubris is the next challenge Harte faces, although he was happy to let his players let loose for a couple of days.

He said: "They were right to enjoy their Ulster title because it was something special and something they'll always remember and it's up to us, collectively, to manage that, park it and say that is good now - we've achieved something we've set out to do, we showed our enjoyment for winning it and now it's time to be in the next zone.

"The next zone started after we won our Ulster title."

Now Harte has turned his attention to the clash against Mayo on Saturday. He just keeps on keeping on.

Meanwhile, there was good news for former Tyrone player Aidan Cassidy. It was thought the Augher man suffered a leg-break in their league encounter with Galbally on Sunday, but instead he has damaged ankle ligaments, leaving the recovery process a much shorter affair.

Belfast Telegraph

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