Harte upbeat as Tyrone head for qualifiers
It's a bit odd, standing in the same position, a year on asking Mickey Harte how Tyrone are going to fare out in the qualifiers, having been put on the seat of their pants by Donegal for the second year in succession.
“I'm glad that they exist,” he begins, ruefully, “because if there weren't qualifiers we would be finished for the year. The fact that they are there means we have something to work towards for the next couple of weeks. It's the luck of the draw who you get, where it's at, and how we perform the next day.
“We have been there before, we have enjoyed the trip sometimes, sometimes we haven't...”
His side weren't blown away by any means, and indeed Tyrone had their goal chances, while Donegal, who pilfered two here last year, never looked like breaking through for a major. If anything, Tyrone can be happy with their evening's work, even if they know there is a lot of housekeeping required to eradicate the mistakes so ruthlessly punished here.
“We went toe to toe with Donegal for a long part of the game”, said the Red Hands boss.
“Whoever would get the march at that stage of the game would be in pole position to win the game. They got it, they got a couple of good scores, I suppose we gifted them another one, and once they went that margin into the lead in a game as tight as this, it was going to be awful hard to get back.”
He continued, “You have to say our boys didn't give up. They kept battling on. It wasn't easy to break them down, we probably needed a goal at that stage to get back in and we almost got it. Nine times out of ten that was a goal — it was a magnificent save but I know Paul Durcan is very capable of doing that. It would have been a major score for us and we would have been going out of here very happy people because it would have been a replay.”
Similar to that infamous All-Ireland semi-final last year, it was a game dictated by Donegal's style of football and finding a way through.
“We knew what to expect from them, we can play a bit of football ourselves and I think we mirrored what they were doing for long parts of the game. Only they just got vital scores at vital times and it made the difference in the end.
“Every team is going to get a purple patch, in their purple patch they made it pay, got those three points — we gifted them one — and when you open up that kind of lead in as tight as match as we were in, that's a huge lead.”
At times, it was fascinating to watch how each side would reach the base camp that was midfield, then try to prise open the defensive cordons. Tyrone, explains Harte, were fully aware of the task they had.
“We were more defensive than we were against Armagh, we knew that. We set up to counteract that they would come at us in waves, because we knew that they would come at us in waves. Last year they had maybe two men up front, or one at times and depended on that player to hold the ball up whenever they were free.
“They have moved on a bit, there are people arriving to take the ball off them and you need to be conscious of the cavalry arriving. They have moved on, they are a slightly different proposition than they were last year, but still a serious proposition.”
And as for this Tyrone side? Onto the next game, says their manager. That's the glory of the Championship nowadays, there's always another chance, no matter how slim.
“We wouldn't be talking in terms of the Championship, we will talk in terms of the next game and I think we are as well equipped as anybody else who will be in the next round of the qualifiers. That's the way it is.
“When you are in the qualifiers, you take it one step at a time and you would be foolish to look further than that,” Harte added.