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Tyrone facing sub warfare in All-Ireland semi-final

By Declan Bogue

A couple of winters back, myself and another flamboyant columnist of this newspaper found ourselves at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, our fine posteriors wedged in between Mickey Harte and his selector Gavin Devlin on one side, Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter and a delegation of players on the other.

My fellow columnist chose to use the wine glass on his left hand side which put in train a ripple effect, with Harte momentarily confused as he had no available glass.

Graciously, all he would say on the matter was, "That's unusual", making a mental note that if he should find himself in Ballymena for a dinner party, they do things differently up there.

Conversation got going between Crusaders custodian Sean O'Neill - a former Antrim goalkeeper - and Harte over Gaelic football.

Harte was keen to know how much work Crusaders put into video analysis. O'Neill's response that they might look at the footage of the goals and have a brief discussion seemed to underwhelm Harte.

O'Neill sensed it and asked how much video work Tyrone do. His eyes spun in his head as Harte detailed how many cameras are used to analyse Tyrone performances. How many GPS trackers. The positions the cameras are placed in and the reasons for that.

And then the kicker. How many games would that be the case for, asked O'Neill.

There was an awkward pause before Harte answered: "Every training session." Cough. Change of subject. The beef's nice, eh? Shame about the spuds.

This Sunday, Tyrone might well be the best-resourced and prepared side to leave Ulster for an All-Ireland semi-final. The work that goes into all of this is staggering. Last week, Tyrone people packed into the Irish Centre in Camden for the launch of the London chapter of Club Tyrone.

Peter Canavan and Owen Mulligan were in attendance to lend some stardust to the thing, as was Harte.

In 2013, Mulligan won an All-Ireland club title with Cookstown. He thought he might get a call back into the Tyrone panel, but it never happened. He spoke on Monday of how "ruthless" his former manager can be.

There are no hard feelings. Harte attended the launch of Mulligan's autobiography a while back, so they had a relaxed chat.

"Talking to him on Monday night, I've never heard him like that, even as a player," said Mulligan.

"I think some of the training they do, hearing different stories and still keeping in contact with ex-players, some of the training they're doing, it's player-driven. It's not him. They want to get out on the pitch. You only have to look at the team. They're full of lung busters. Up and down the field, the way they play. They've exceptional fitness.

"He said at Club Tyrone, it's the most committed bunch he's ever managed and he looked at Peter Canavan and said that's including Peter Canavan's team.

"That was the team I was in and there was a few rule breakers, including myself! He said he doesn't have to mention alcohol. Players are scared of falling behind other players if they go on the beer. He said they're the most professional bunch he's ever managed."

Harte has evidently reached a sweet spot with this panel now. In recent years, former players such as Ryan McMenamin and Canavan have told anecdotes about how players were encouraged to figure things out for themselves on the pitch, rather than looking nervously towards the line for guidance.

Take all that confidence and trouble-shooting ability, as well as preparation and investment, and it may still not be enough to beat Dublin this Sunday.

What never changes is the crucial ability of players to make the right decision under pressure and in a state of fatigue. When it comes to tactical switches, Harte has been an innovator but not beyond being trumped. He knows more than most the importance of starting with one side and finishing with another.

As the game approaches the 50-minute mark, Dublin have developed the sophistication to play two games within one.

They reach that mark, unleash the bench and start all over again.

Assuming Jim Gavin starts the same side as against Monaghan, he can then send on two former Footballers of the Year in Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley, as well as Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn. Tyrone don't have that depth.

And that's going to be the difference.

Belfast Telegraph

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