Tyrone try to curb rumours as manager Mickey Harte left in limbo again
Three days after Tyrone lost to Kerry in the All-Ireland football semi-final last year, manager Mickey Harte held a meeting with his players and outlined his plans for 2016.
Such is his ongoing zest and enthusiasm for a post which he regards as “an honour and a privilege” that Harte immersed himself in outlining his blueprint for the future even before the county board had ratified his appointment for another term.
And it was the first time since his appointment in late 2002 that he did not have an agreed extension to his tenure in place.
Despite the capture of three All-Ireland crowns in 2003, 2005 and 2008 and a stack of Ulster titles, the county board procrastinated before eventually giving Harte the green light to continue in situ for another two year-term.
It is understood that at the county board meeting earlier this week delegates voted 20-18 in favour of a proposal that Harte should see out his current two-year term and that no actual vote was taken on his request for an extension to this arrangement.
Suddenly, however, the Red Hand County is experiencing an element of deja vu as once again an anticipated rubber-stamping job proves anything but that.
Instead, uncertainty and apprehension now prevails following the county board’s decision not to accede to Harte’s request for a further year’s extension which would see him remain in charge until the curtain is brought down on Tyrone’s 2018 Championship season.
It would appear that Harte’s successful team re-building exercise which saw four trophies captured within the eight-month period immediately prior to the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo failed to influence at least some county board members when the manager’s request came up for discussion.
Indeed, the annexing of a first Ulster title since 2010 and the fact that the side only lost by a point to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final are still viewed in some quarters as pointers to an even more lucrative return next year.
Yet for now at least, the longest-serving inter-county football boss in the game finds himself consigned to a sporting limbo.
But Tyrone PRO Eunan Lindsay has moved to quell the speculation that continues to swirl within the county in the wake of Tuesday night’s meeting.
“The fact of the matter is that at the end of last season our senior, Under-21 and minor management teams were all given two-year terms which are due to terminate at the end of their respective Championship campaigns in 2017,” said Lindsay.
“It is then that the matter of re-appointments or fresh appointments will be addressed.”
Harte’s request for an extension to his term in charge to be granted now is understandable.
He is conscious that while his restructured side accumulated trophies this year, the challenge to regain the Sam Maguire Cup must remain the Red Hands’ prime goal.
In the immediate aftermath of the heartbreaking loss to Mayo, Harte made it quite clear that he knows exactly where he stands in this respect.
“Winning the league this year was nice, but in Tyrone people want the All-Ireland title,” he said.
“It is not considered a really successful season if you do not get the All-Ireland title and this is another year gone by that we don’t have it.
“We are a developing and evolving side and maybe it was a bit premature to expect them to have enough quality and experience to win the Sam Maguire Cup because it does not happen easily.”
Harte may now have reason to ponder his future but the bond which he has established with his current side and the rampant desire to go the extra mile next year — something that could well be achieved particularly if Sean Cavanagh should make himself available again — could see a concerted onslaught on the big one.
There is more than a touch of irony to the situation in which Harte currently finds himself and the prompt reaction of the Kerry board to their team’s gallant performance in the defeat to Dublin in the second All-Ireland semi-final.
Less than two weeks have passed since that setback but already Kingdom manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has been granted a new two-year term to lead the side.
Fitzmaurice has masterminded four consecutive Munster titles as well as overseeing the county’s most recent All-Ireland triumph — in 2014 when they overcame Donegal in the decider.