Ulster Championship: Wily Harte can turn up heat on McGuinness
The stage is set for what should prove a fascinating touchline battle of wits between the old and the new at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones on Sunday.
Mickey Harte is now in his eighth season as Tyrone boss while Jim McGuinness will be at the helm of operations for Donegal for just the third time in a championship match.
While Harte has supervised the collection of four Ulster titles and three All-Ireland crowns, McGuinness is still finding his feet in the demanding championship arena.
Yet it is a measure of the status he has acquired within a short period of time that his strategic planning and deployment of key players are viewed as major threats to the Red Hands’ ambitions of landing a third provincial crown on the trot.
Not since 1992 have Donegal won the Ulster series but such has been McGuinness’s influence to date that optimism, buoyancy and unbridled enthusiasm have replaced lethargy, uncertainty and pessimism.
Cushioned by a belief in his own ability, McGuinness, who gave outstanding service to Donegal as a player, is very much his own man.
Tactically aware and fortified by a carefully-cultivated dossier on all opponents, his meticulous preparations have so far been central to his team’s progress.
“I wanted to get the players’ mind-set right first and then take things from there. It’s a case of so far so good but Tyrone will be the real test for us,” points out McGuinness.
His head-to-head with Mickey Harte has the potential to unveil complex patterns not necessarily designed to provide five-star entertainment but to secure entry into the Ulster final against Derry.
Harte, conscious of the emphatic manner in which Donegal triumphed over his side en route to their new home in Division One, recognises that Tyrone’s very soul will come in for examination on Sunday.
“You couldn’t but be impressed by what Donegal have achieved to date. They won Division Two of the league in which there were some decent teams and they have put two championship wins along with that,” reflects Harte.
“I know that Donegal generally play well against Tyrone — in fact, they are often quite happy to meet us.”
Few teams relish the prospect of crossing swords with the Red Hands, of course. But Donegal will not be in the least intimidated come Sunday.
This is due in no small measure to McGuinness’s motivational rhetoric, astute planning and voracious hunger for more success.