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Comment: The dark art of the team press conference

By Declan Bogue

Not that they are in any way obliged to do so, but it seemed that Tyrone were not going to - or were unable to - hold a press conference ahead of this weekend's winner-takes-all Super8s game against Donegal in Ballybofey.

However, in popped an email on Monday evening - 7.30pm indeed - inviting the world's media to Garvaghey to hear the thoughts of Mickey and Peter Harte yesterday.

By this stage, you begin to recognise the art and the science of the press conference. In an amateur sport, there is no contractual obligation to host one prior to a big game. Therefore, one must be careful to pick up the little nuances and see what kind of message a manager wants to get out there.

Donegal gave a masterclass in it last week - but more about that later.

In the course of the interview, Harte was questioned about Sky TV disputing his claim that the sidelines in Healy Park were moved in at their behest for the last game against Dublin.

A reminder. Harte was asked after the game about it and answered: "The Omagh club asked me would I be okay with that, I said, 'That's fine, work away'. There are people reading too much into that. A conspiracy theory, but it was nothing to do with that, it was a practical matter."

Of course, a media behemoth such as Sky keep a tight eye on their public image. They have taken plenty of criticism already, some of it being untruths pedalled by pundits in other camps, and so they weren't going to be held accused of dictating on matters as critical as the dimensions of the playing surface in a crucial game.

Sky's statement read: "This is incorrect. Sky Sports did not ask for the pitch to be narrowed, nor would we ever make such a request."

Yesterday was the first time Harte had been asked about it since the Dublin game, and he answered: "I think that was well spoken about in the days and week after the match, and I don't think we need to talk about it again.

"Did you get that answer? Good man. For me, that's finished, that's over and done with. I'm not talking about it anymore."

As reactions go, it was an unusually rattled one from Harte. What it brings home is that the general public, fattened on all the good hurling and the round-robin nature of the Super8s, haven't quite picked up yet that this weekend is a season-ender for either Tyrone or Donegal.

Last year, there were a few weeks of lead-in to the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin and the approach felt almost leisurely. Now it is upon us, and it is new territory for the managers.

Back to Donegal. They held their pre-game press conference at the end of last week. For the second time this season, manager Declan Bonner appealed for protection for his star player, Ryan McHugh.

The first time came prior to the Ulster final, with media reports stating that three Down players were black carded for fouls on McHugh - which was not the case.

In the Ulster final, Fermanagh's Michael Jones was black carded after coming into contact with McHugh, with many feeling it was accidental.

"He gets a huge amount of attention, and officials have to look at it," Bonner said.

"The amount of fouls says it all. He has been fouled an average of 10 or 12 times a game, and there are very few cards for the fouls. It's continuous. If you get away with something, you'll continue to do it. It has to be stamped out. Officials have to see that. We have two linesmen, four umpires and a referee. They have to see what's going on."

It's that claim, though, that seasoned observers would have thought Harte wanted to address by putting himself up for interview.

After all, Tyrone have had players ruthlessly targeted by the opposition. In recent times, Dublin's John Small has spent his game consistently fouling Peter Harte off the ball. His uncle Mickey was perhaps alluding to it when he said: "We could bring up a lot of players who get a lot of singular attention from the opposition, so it's not unique to anybody, any county or any particular player. We depend on the referee, his linesmen and his umpires to take care of that."

A hot game for referee Joe McQuillan just became scorching.

Belfast Telegraph

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