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Red Hands would be mad to end Harte's reign, says Tyrone legend

 

By Declan Bogue

Ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin, Tyrone legend Owen Mulligan has suggested that "personal issues" lie at the heart of the impasse between Mickey Harte and the county board, with no guarantee the Red Hands manager's tenure will be extended at the end of the season.

Referring to his surprise regarding the situation, Mulligan evoked memories of 2013 when, after winning the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship with Cookstown Fr Rocks, he waited for a call from Harte to invite him back onto the county panel that never came.

"I'm very surprised. He's a ruthless man, and I know that first hand. He's totally ruthless," said Mulligan. "I think he deserves another couple of years on his contract, with the team he's built there he'll need another couple of years if they don't get over the line this time.

"The supporters see it, I just don't think the county board do."

While pointing out that "I think it's only a few on the county board who've got a gripe with him," Mulligan spelled out a doomsday scenario for fans in the Red Hand County if this year is completed and Harte does not gain an extension to his agreement.

Any possible reasoning that the situation could not be dealt with during the season would seem redundant given that Dublin persuaded Jim Gavin to remain until the end of 2019, revealing so in May.

"If Mickey Harte doesn't get the job, every county will be having a look at him," warned Mulligan. "Do we as Tyrone people want that, Mickey going to another county and seeing the experience he'll give? They'll be queuing up for him.

"Nobody's ever going to agree. County level is the same. If everybody agreed in this life, you'd be going rightly. It's not going to be that way. I think the whole of Tyrone is driven to win the one thing. Whatever gets in the way, that seems to be the problem in Tyrone. I think it's maybe personal issues at this stage."

Mulligan was in Dublin ahead of the semi-final, spending some time reminiscing over his famous goal in 2005, which for many was the greatest goal ever witnessed in Croke Park.

A natural extrovert, with a propensity towards flamboyant play, bleached hair and tattoos, Mulligan had the ideal personality for playing in full stadiums.

"I just loved the whole hype, loved Hill 16. I'm a Liverpool fan so when I was younger it was the Kop to me," he said. "If you are a player and you can't get up for a Dublin game, you shouldn't be playing. It is the best fixture that you can get.

"But I have seen other players freeze, it is a daunting place and if you miss a couple of shots in front of the Hill, they will soon let you know about it. But that is all part of it."

However, not all are blessed with ice-cool temperament. With Diarmuid Connolly set to make his return to the Dublin panel after serving a 12-week suspension for pushing sideline official Ciaran Branagan in a Leinster Championship clash against Carlow, Mulligan makes no bones that Tyrone will be out to twist his tail.

"Tyrone will make sure they target him in their own way," said Mulligan in that refreshing, honest way of his.

"You only have to look at his disciplinary record and I think Tyrone will pounce on that, they'll definitely target it in the same way as we would have.

"I read one of Alan Brogan's articles where he said he hated Tyrone. He hated Tyrone because we targeted him. He was the best player on the field. You target the best players and we targeted him over the years.

"We targeted him over the years and those boys would be no different. That's the way Mickey Harte goes about his business. The best players have to be cancelled out of the game. He'll be in for special treatment I would say."

As to what he means precisely by 'special treatment', he explained: "Well, you see (Lee) Keegan giving him special treatment. You have to get up close and personal in Championship games.

"That's our take on it. That's been the Tyrone way. There are boys there who can do that."

In the past, Harte had any number of tight markers to place on the opposition dangermen, but the go-to men were always Ryan McMenamin and Conor Gormley.

The present edition of Tyrone appears more polished, but Mulligan feels he can identify one man in Padraig Hampsey that is tailor-made to curb Connolly when he comes on.

With a background as a champion junior boxer with the Clonoe club, he has gone from fringe player last year to two successive man of the match awards and establishing himself as a crucial part of the team.

"I'd like to see Hampsey on him. Hampsey is a top-class player," said Mulligan.

"He has come in this last year now, and he's another one of those boys who seem to come up with the scores. And if he can do that, and he's marking Connolly, Connolly will have a bit of a job on his hands as well, so I think it would be great to see that battle on the field."

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