Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: Mickey Harte enters hall of fame

By Declan Bogue

For his ingenuity, originality and achievements, Mickey Harte is inducted into the Belfast Telegraph's Hall of Fame, the most successful Gaelic football manager that has ever emerged from the province of Ulster.

As well as leading Tyrone to their first three All-Ireland titles, he has also gained admiration for his humanitarian acts. Despite the loss of his daughter, murdered on honeymoon in January 2011, he continues to help many in Tyrone and further afield with their difficulties.

Previous Hall of Fame winners have included Jack Kyle, Mike Gibson and Willie John McBride from the world of rugby, Dame Mary Peters, Barry McGuigan, Down's wing-forward of the '60's Sean O'Neill, George Best and last year's inductee, Gerry Armstrong.

Eleven years after taking over a county that had never won Gaelic football's greatest prize — the Sam Maguire — Tyrone manager Mickey strides his sport like a colossus.

He is the longest serving inter-county manager in football, and also one of the most successful ever with three All-Ireland titles, four Ulster Championships, a National League and six Dr McKenna Cups.

In his first year of 2003, he urged his Tyrone players to follow the example of neighbours Armagh, who themselves landed their maiden All-Ireland triumph the year previous. At that stage, the physical power, preparation and focus of Armagh seemed set to dictate the terms of Gaelic football.

As it happens, the neighbours from across the Blackwater river would meet in the 2003 final. In a fraught, nervy and attritional battle, Tyrone were to hold their nerve and close out the win.

The final, and the fractious semi-final against Kerry, were to colour most of the unfortunate commentary that went after it.

Tyrone became labelled as a team that would win through whatever means possible, but the truth is that in Harte's first year, his side had produced some of the most devastatingly-fast football ever.

As a coach, Harte's greatest strength would be his ability to improvise and adapt to changing circumstances.

When Peter Canavan, the side's spiritual leader and greatest-ever forward injured his ankle in the semi-final win over Kerry, Harte shocked the GAA world by starting Canavan in the final, withdrawing him before half-time before sending him on for the closing quarter, rousing the support into a frenzy.

Outside of football, Harte earned widespread admiration for the way in which he dealt with very public tragedies. As the Tyrone minor manager of 1997, young forward Paul McGirr died as a result of injuries after a game against Armagh.

Harte's pastoral guidance over the group bonded them and equipped them with a resilience that would carry them through their successful minor and Under-21 days.

They lost the 1997 All-Ireland minor final to Laois, but came back the following year to atone for the loss in the final over the midlands county.

It was largely the same group that won the All-Ireland under-21 titles under Harte in 2000 and 2001 and they blossomed into the senior All-Ireland winning team of 2003.

At the start of the 2004 season, the Tyrone side were hit with further tragedy after the untimely death of Cormac McAnallen, whom Harte had named as captain prior to the season.

They would come back and win the Sam Maguire in 2005, the final against Kerry proving to be a modern classic as they stood toe to toe with the Kingdom and outgunned them.

That season was all the more remarkable as Tyrone fought out three incredible battles against Armagh at Croke Park — the neighbours beating them in the Ulster final replay — before they both emerged from a titanic All-Ireland semi-final, famously sealed by a late pressure free, nailed by Peter Canavan.

After the retirement of Canavan it was said Tyrone would struggle to win another All-Ireland.

To the concern of many, Harte began experimenting with Sean Cavanagh at full-forward in 2008, a bit of tactical tinkering that met with serious criticism after Down beat them after an Ulster Championship first-round replay in the Marshes.

By the end of the season, Tyrone had won their third All-Ireland, with Cavanagh still at full-forward, being crowned Player of the Year for his performances.

Clearly, Harte had seen something that the rest of the world took a while to catch up with. Even more astonishing was that it was Kerry they had once again beaten in the final, rightfully earning them the unofficial title of ‘Team of the Decade.'

Last weekend, Tyrone made it to the 10th McKenna Cup final of Harte's managerial reign, as he fashions a new team. It was said that the team are in transition, but they still reached a National League final, and the All-Ireland semi-final in 2013.

No doubt, further honours are ahead for the Red Hands.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph