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Harte and O'Rourke have such a unique hand in big showdown

 

By Declan Bogue

Tomorrow, two men from the same club will be contesting an All-Ireland semi-final with competing counties when Errigal Ciaran's Malachy O'Rourke and Mickey Harte lead out Monaghan and Tyrone respectively. It is the first time it has happened in living memory.

The main street of Ballygawley is pretty typical of mid-Ulster. A builders' merchants hums away at the top of the town with the increase in construction work around the hinterlands.

A restaurant, a chapel, a shop, a few homes, pubs, pizzeria, chip shop, cafés and various businesses. Unremarkable but for the storied football history that occupies a small part of everyone for the most part, but consumes them on weeks like this.

For publican Christopher 'Tiffy' Quinn, the football chat has seldom been as intense.

Quinn has held a number of management positions throughout Ulster and is back now in the Errigal backroom team, under Pascal Canavan.

He made fleeting appearances under Mickey Harte during his one year in charge of the seniors, which yielded Tyrone and Ulster Club Championships in 2002. The two had been part of the same panel that won Errigal's first county Championship in 1993.

"I know what he is all about," he says.

"It is about winning. If it was a game of tiddlywinks, Mickey Harte would want to win it, he is just driven that way."

Nobody could say O'Rourke and Harte are similar personalities. O'Rourke is gregarious and moves among people with a booming laugh, keeping his own powder dry while letting others air their theories on football.

Harte is much more private. A lifelong pioneer, while O'Rourke will enjoy the occasional night out in the pubs of Ballygawley.

Where they are virtually inseparable however, is their will to win. Both are pragmatists and innovators.

But there's an edge with both, for sure.

"I would have refereed school's matches for both of them," recalls Tiffy.

"Malachy would be very driven. Even at Under-14 level he would have been going all out to win it. A serious competitor underneath that cool image."

O'Rourke wasn't always Errigal. His wife Judith taught in Eglish, he is still a teacher in St Joseph's Enniskillen, and the two picked Ballygawley as a half-way point.

After he wound down his county career with Fermanagh, O'Rourke switched clubs from Derrylin to Errigal. Although they were only a fledging club at the time, you had to win respect. O'Rourke achieved that through his humility.

"To be fair, even if the reserves were stuck, and he had played county football for Fermanagh, there would have been no bother, he would have taken his place on the reserve team. A great man to have around the place," adds Quinn.

"When he came into our club, I think our first Championship he was playing in wing-back and I was playing on the other wing."

Paul Quinn is another man intimately familiar with both. A clever ball-playing half-back, he was on Mickey Harte's All-Ireland winning panels of the last decade. For Errigal, he won a Tyrone Championship under Harte in 2002 and O'Rourke in 2006.

On Wednesday evening, he was up at the Errigal club grounds in Dunmoyle for youth coaching where he bumped into his neighbour Leo McBride - O'Rourke's long-term right-hand man going back over 15 years now.

The colourful McBride, known to all as 'Dropsy', was doing his best to avoid talk of football, but he was fighting a losing battle on that front.

"I was up at the kids' football in Dunmoyle and that's what everyone is talking about," says Paul Quinn

"You see them on TV, see them at games and being interviewed. And then you see them in the town and we are maybe used to it. We have always had big names, but you knew them on a deeper level.

"They both did a great job in the years that they had us, both won a Championship. But they have moved on and are doing great jobs there too."

In terms of how they approached the job, there wasn't anything to separate them, Quinn reveals.

"When it comes to football they are very, very similar.

"Mickey would have trained us in school (St Ciaran's Ballygawley) and then I went to the Under-21s, he was taking the training himself. And the training was very innovative, it was short, sharp sessions and high intensity.

"With Malachy it was the same. Looking for small tweaks within games. A lot of tactical plays within a game, looking at the next play after a kickout and so on. In that regard, they are so similar. Really good communicators and motivators."

The big days come thick and fast for Tyrone.

This is the fifth All-Ireland semi-final they have appeared in (2009, 2013, 2015 and 2017) since they last won the All-Ireland in 2008.

Over the last decade, they have held off on getting the Tyrone colours up too early. If they win today, there will be a panic to make the most of it.

But O'Rourke is one of their own too. There is a strange atmosphere around the place. It's left to Paul Quinn to best sum up the odd dichotomy.

"It's funny because Mickey and Malachy are two good clubmen. We obviously want Tyrone to win, we are Tyrone people, but you are really happy for Malachy and Leo to be doing well," he says.

"If it was anybody else you would be rooting for them."

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