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Harte is so hungry as 17th season offers shot at success

 

Long-servant: Mickey Harte looking forward to 2019
Long-servant: Mickey Harte looking forward to 2019
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

If you listen closely for a clue for Mickey Harte's appetite to remain a county manager, it can be found in the way he talks about Tyrone's 2018.

Already, the year 2018 is in the rear-view window as he suggests: "If we want to use the experience of last year's final, then you can only use it if you get back to the final."

Last year. In the same way as Nick Hornby's younger, Arsenal-devoted self measured time in football seasons rather than calendar years, so it is with Harte who already is fixated on 2019 and what that brings. Their year will start early with a Dr McKenna Cup fixture to allow them to get away for a team holiday to Thailand.

This will be Harte's 17th season in charge of his county. It is quite some way off Sean Boylan's 23 years with Meath, but has long passed Mick O'Dwyer's 15 years with Kerry.

To give a greater sense of time, in the modern game the next longest-serving managers are Malachy O'Rourke with Monaghan and Dublin's Jim Gavin, both of whom took charge in the winter of 2012. To stay in the game this long is to exceed the wildest expectations of your supporters.

So it is with Harte, who talks of the effect playing in an All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin has on the panel as a whole.

"It's good in one way and a challenge in another because that is the standard we set for ourselves last year. We got to a final and we didn't do the business so to speak. That's our aspiration now, to get back there," he states.

"If we want to use the experience of last year's final, then you can only use it if you get back to the final.

"I am not saying it would be of no use to us if we progress through the Championship. But that is a long way off. That's very far ahead, but we have to have that aspiration as we head out.

"That does not dismiss the fact we have a lot of very difficult steps to take to get that far. Last year we found ourselves in the qualifiers after the first round of the Ulster Championship. The same thing could happen to us again.

"I think we are a resilient enough side now, we spent enough time in the qualifiers not to be too downhearted about being there. We seem to have this capacity to regroup and be a strong side in the qualifiers."

Within a fortnight of the All-Ireland final, the team and management convened at Garvaghey for a debrief. It was a chance to catch breath after the busiest and most hectic of All-Ireland series, 10 games packed into the shortest time frame the race for Sam Maguire has known in the modern age.

Many said that the six-point defeat to Dublin was an inevitability. Harte went to work disproving that theory immediately.

"You have to do that," he says.

"You really can't leave the season like that and let it sit there in limbo. People have to get together and reflect on what happened.

"Again, it is good to reinforce the positive aspects of the season. Because when you lose in a final like that, it is very easy to focus on the outcome of the final and almost be despondent about it. So we have to keep it in context, in perspective and let people know that when all is said and done, this was a good season. To be part of an All-Ireland final, the only person who had experienced that before was Colm Cavanagh, we had a whole bunch of new players who experienced an All-Ireland final day."

When he faced the media after that final defeat, he projected an outward calm.

"I actually wasn't too despondent about that," he says.

"I looked at it in a more pragmatic fashion than some other observers did. Some people just saw the final outcome and the margin at the end of the game. That was the story peddled by those that like to peddle handy stories.

"But I felt we played some serious football, both in the beginning and in the second half of that game. We went through a very bad patch that cost us dearly, but I think we had more to be thankful for than to be angry about.

"I think it's about putting it all in context, so that our players are not thinking, 'I am not good enough'. Because I don't believe that and they don't believe that."

Already, they are back motoring for the new season. New players have been brought in, while some former players, notably the once Great White Hope, Kyle Coney, has returned for another bash at this level.

Harte's minor irritations aren't going anywhere. He is a man of consistency but he has a point when he feels the onset of these changes have been forced through at a time when the most recognisable GAA pundits - those that sit on The Sunday Game seats for live broadcasts -are almost uniformly against the ways of the modern game and seduced by the Hovis bread advertisement levels of nostalgia over football in the '80's.

"That's the value of continuous media presence these days. You have great access to the media and you keep saying things, then it does have a great impact," says Harte.

"There obviously wasn't enough credence given to the views of the players, who clearly had serious reservations about most of these rules, some extreme reservations about some of them and moderate with others."

You don't last 17 seasons in a job like this without being true to yourself and applying a serious consistency.

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