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New coach O'Neill can help Tyrone reach next level: Harte

 

By Declan Bogue

The addition of Stevie O'Neill, the 2005 Footballer of the Year, to Tyrone's coaching ticket can add 'instinct' that may be lacking in the Red Hands' attack as they set out to halt Dublin's bid for four All-Ireland titles in a row in 2018, according to manager Mickey Harte.

Tyrone's narrow win over St Mary's College on Sunday leaves them in pole position to qualify for the McKenna Cup semi-finals, and providing they don't ship a heavy defeat to struggling Cavan - who suffered a shock loss to Antrim - they will go through.

With Tyrone struggling to muster up scores in their last two All-Ireland exits at the hands of Dublin last year and Mayo in 2016, the introduction of O'Neill is hugely significant and Harte made no attempt to play down his pleasure at having one of his best ever servants now on the sideline alongside him.

"Stevie is no stranger to Tyrone football and has been there for many, many years. I have worked with him since he was 17, so we all know him well. He brings something different to us," said Harte.

"It's another pair of very seasoned eyes on all that is going on, and we know that he was an instinctive forward, so he can do things that very few others can do. If he can coach a bit of that into some of our forwards, that would be very helpful."

In Harte's first few years at the Tyrone helm he was blessed with a number of forwards who could be described as 'once in a lifetime' talents such as Peter Canavan, Brian McGuigan, Owen Mulligan and O'Neill.

The depth of talent was such that O'Neill didn't even make the starting line-up for the 2003 All-Ireland final, coming on as a substitute in that game for McGuigan and scoring two vital points against Armagh.

O'Neill was a loyal servant to Harte, and persuaded the Errigal Ciaran man to remain on as county minor manager after losing the 1997 All-Ireland final to Laois, as recounted in the latter's 'Kicking Down Heaven's Door' account of the 2003 season.

They came back 12 months later and beat the same opposition, and in his comeback 20 years on, he is alongside Harte in the Tyrone dugout.

Although O'Neill's coaching experience is limited, Harte believes he can pass on some of his experience to coax more out of the forward line.

"I think other players can get an insight into why he was as effective as he was as a player on the field," he explained.

"He can coach them on certain things, on ways of things that they mightn't have thought about before.

"It's coming from somebody who has been there before and done it so I think they would listen to it."

However, the game that O'Neill started out playing has become very fluid, and Harte stated that his remit wouldn't just be to work with forwards exclusively, but with all the players whenever they find themselves attacking the opposition.

"It's not about the days of backs and forwards. That's gone, we know that. The days of a positional sense as it is written on a match programme is gone. So it is about football; every player needs to be able to think like an attacker and to work like a defender. That's the way the game is going," said Harte.

Having O'Neill at training has already paid dividends for Niall Sludden, Tyrone's All-Star nominee from 2017.

"As a young player, I always looked up to Stevie. Since he has come in I have seen him make a big impact," the Dromore man stated.

"It's definitely not going to happen straight away. That just doesn't happen overnight, but I've really enjoyed having him in, a player of that calibre. It's really exciting.

"In terms of analysis, you just know that he has been watching the game a lot since he has been out, he's been studying it.

"He's very vocal and he's very helpful around both forwards and defenders, trying to bring our game to a new level."

New captain Matthew Donnelly has already spelled out how O'Neill can make the difference and address the 12-point gap between themselves and Dublin last August.

"He's doing a lot of good work with the team, but that's going to take time and that's going to take games and patience from all involved before you see that come to fruition," the Trillick man said.

"Obviously that final third, which is extremely decisive in a big game, is something where we have a lot of scope to improve on too.

"But I would be happy that we have all the answers there in the set-up at the minute to be able to address that."

Sludden said the emphasis has been on putting 2017 behind them and looking forward to 2018.

He added: "That was 2017, we're in 2018 now, so it's a fresh start and we're just looking forward to the next couple of McKenna Cup games, and obviously our first game in the league, Galway away."

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