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Mickey Harte has a knack of winning mind games

Experienced Tyrone boss is a proven master of psychology when it comes to getting tactics right with his players in the dressing room

By Declan Bogue

As early as half-time of the 2005 Ulster semi-final, Sean Cavanagh asked his manager Mickey Harte if he could come off.

He had spent the previous 35 minutes being pinched, held off the ball and spat on by his Cavan opponents. Despite alerting the referee and linesmen, he was getting no protection. Close to tears, he asked to be replaced.

Harte refused. Cavan got a late free to make it 1-7 and matched Tyrone's 0-10. They would have to do it all over again six days later in Clones.

The following week featured the 34-year-old Peter Canavan at his imperious best, scoring 1-7 and creating two more goals, Tyrone winning by 21 points. They let their hair down in a second half of showboating and cheered passes.

In the next round, Armagh took Tyrone to a replay in the Ulster final and beat them.

They were also beaten in the 2008 Ulster quarter-final replay against Down. The pattern emerges; any time Mickey Harte has been beaten in a replay, Tyrone have gone on to win the All-Ireland.

Long before he became senior team manager, Harte had conquered the psychology of the replay.

Back in 1998, they were defending Ulster minor champions and looking like departing the Championship when Enda McGinley was put through on goal with the last play against Down.

"I just happened to be chatting about it last week," he recalls.

"It was the most rubbish shot. Straight-through and loads of time. I was in two minds and I swung the left foot at it. If we had have lost that match, you wouldn't have heard of Mickey Harte, and maybe even that team!"

In Harte's solitary year in charge of the Errigal Ciaran senior side, they won the Tyrone title and hosted Crossmaglen Rangers in Omagh. They drew. A week later, they were in Crossmaglen and extra-time couldn't separate them.

The third instalment was staged in Clones, Errigal winning through by three points.

Harte carried that relentless attitude into the county job. In his first Championship game, they required a Canavan equaliser to bring Derry to a replay. They blitzed them in the Casement Park replay.

Down's four goals in the Ulster final left Tyrone chasing the game. Again, Canavan to the rescue - he would not be denied - and seven days later, Cormac McAnallen slipped into the full-back position and Tyrone won by 15 points.

What strange alchemy does Harte practise in the dressing rooms between a drawn game and the replay?

"The thing that stands out for me," McGinley begins, "is how calm that period would be between the first match and the second match.

"His main message that he would have hammered home, was that the first match would bear no resemblance to the second match and have no direct influence on it."

He continues: "He would have spoken to a lot of the players and got feedback from the players about what was going on in the pitch, looking at where to tighten up.

"Ideally, he would have balanced all that focus by stating over and over again that it was a completely new game."

That thinking lifts pressure off the shoulders of the underwhelming performers the first day. It means they start on a new page. There's a bit of that in the team selection for tomorrow.

For others, a different tact was required. When Owen Mulligan was able to take a pass and turn to face the Dublin defence in 2005, he ran through to score possibly the finest individual goal ever and help Tyrone to a draw.

At training that week, Harte beckoned him over. Mulligan thought he would be dropped, not realising the enormity of the goal.

"Can you not see how people are talking about this?" asked Harte.

"You have probably scored one of the best goals ever scored in Croke Park. If that doesn't catapult your season, I don't know what will."

Working the angles, using them to your advantage.

The question now is if Tyrone have learned enough from the first Cavan game to make it to their first Ulster final in six years. Given they coughed up three goals that in their own way owed something to a lack of a commanding figure in the air, you suspect they might.

"But equally," warns McGinley, "Cavan will come out differently the next day and Mickey would always be railing against any huge over-analysis or basing the next day on what happened before.

"Talking about it now you would nearly split it into those three sections; analysis of the previous game, the opposition and what they might change the next day, and mostly on upping your performance the next day."

In the last seven seasons, Tyrone have only been involved in one replay. But they won't forget June 19, 2005. Harte, and Cavanagh, will not allow it.

Belfast Telegraph


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