The half-smile on Mickey Harte’s face as he sat down to face the press afterwards was one of knowing bemusement. He knew he had come up against probably the greatest-ever Gaelic football team, and they chose Sunday to open up.
“It’s the best Dublin team that I have faced in my championship career at senior level. I think you have to give them that now. I wasn’t sure before today if that was the case, but I think I can be quite sure of that now,” Harte said generously.
There were straws of consolation offered to him, but he wasn’t taking them. Such as the chance that some players might have been overawed by the occasion.
“I don’t feel that the occasion got to them, but you have to factor in a few things. When people don’t make the best decisions, you have to think about what kind of pressure are you making these decisions under. It’s about maybe poor decision making, but forced by quality opposition,” he began.
“I’d feel that we gave away a lot of ball that we fought hard to win, we carried the ball into the tackle too much and lost it at vital times.
“So we were orchestrators of our own downfall to that extent, but that’s a learning curve that we have to embrace and know that you need to be able to keep your possession under that kind of pressure and make good decisions.”
He continued, “But this was a different level today. They had a real energy and a real drive and it’s something that we hadn’t seen face to face. We saw them in the league and that’s a different time of the year and they’re at a different stage of their training regime and all the rest.
“We didn’t experience the ferocity that they would bring to us. You can’t experience that until you’re toe to toe with it, and I have to compliment them.”
He paid tribute to Sean Cavanagh, who now departs the inter-county scene.
“Sean Cavanagh is with these Tyrone seniors as long as I am, and he was a faithful servant. He gave so much, he has so many accolades to prove his value across many, many spectres of awards,” he gushed.
“He has nothing to regret really, he gave it all he had. We were hoping that he would get another day before he finished his career. We haven’t been able to provide that, but I don’t think he’ll walk away with many regrets.
“There’s not many players will leave the game of Gaelic football with all that he has achieved, particularly not in Tyrone anyway.”
And while Cavanagh is one man that will not be showing up for duty in Garvaghey over the winter, the manager himself expects to be given another year at least by the Tyrone county board to continue as manager.
“I think I’ve made that suggestion many times during the year,” he stated.
“I do expect to be here. It’s not in my hands. Somebody else might choose to do something different — that’s their prerogative to do so. At this point in time, I’ve no intention of walking away.”