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Tyrone manager Mickey Harte pictures more success

By Declan Bogue

He is well into his 60's now, Mickey Harte. His son Mark is the same age as new Donegal manager Rory Gallagher and already making a name for himself as a coach.

So you hit him with the question, couched in clumsy and clunky terms, about 'not fitting the age profile' of other managers and he smiles. He knows what you are getting at and he chuckles before delivering an answer off the cuff that once you sit to transcribe it, realise that it is something he has long since figured out.

"It's a question of how old is anyone? How old is their mindset?" he poses at the launch of the new Tyrone kit in their training complex of Garvaghey.

He continues: "How open are they to new ideas, how much can you draw on what's happened in the past - are you a slave to it or do you have some way of making things different. Life changes all the time and so it does in sport."

There have been changes this year. Long-time right-hand man Tony Donnelly is gone and Harte's former player Peter Donnelly is now in roughly the space that Fergal McCann used to occupy.

He's comfortable with all that, explaining: "Just because you change doesn't mean you don't have respect for what happened in the past, of course we have, but at the same time, it's about bringing a new and fresh approach to maybe refresh myself.

"It's good to make changes. And maybe that's as much as anything about why the changes were made - to refresh myself, to go back and maybe do things I used to do myself, with the energy to do it."

The fourth anniversary of his daughter Michaela's death was a fortnight ago. Given how he is a much more visible and vocal presence in taking team training, he reveals that for a few years, he would have rowed back a little.

"I believed it was time to do that because I have been removed from that, for a variety of reasons - it wasn't that I didn't want to do it," he begins.

"But a number of things obviously happened in life that it takes its toll on you. I had to re-energise myself and it takes a certain amount of time to get to a place where you have more energy again. Maybe more than I had this past number of years.

"I do like the challenge of being on the training field myself. I did it for years and when you have to go back to do it again it gets your head thinking you can do things a bit differently. It might make a little bit of difference down the line."

Once upon a time, former Derry manager John Brennan - who is now back managing Antrim club Cargin in his 70s - said one of his favourite aspects of managing was how working with young men kept him young.

The turnover of players among the Bushes has meant the age profile has significantly dropped this year, leading Harte to comment: "It's good that there are people that want to be part of the Tyrone set-up and have an energy and enthusiasm, a desire to do well, a desire to do better.

"That's always been the case when you have an influx of players, it energises the more seasoned players. That's an ideal set-up if you can get it."

Youth, however, is nothing without being matched with experience, and the form of Sean Cavanagh - one of Tyrone's eldest players - has Harte purring.

Up against Brendan Donaghy in Wednesday night's McKenna Cup semi-final win over Armagh, the Moy man scored 1-3 and could be a permanent fixture on the edge of the opposition square.

"If he sets his mind to play any particular place on the pitch he is a force and it's great to see the energy and the enthusiasm he has at this stage of his career, and how long he has been doing it," adds Harte.

The paucity of Armagh's challenge surprised Harte, but he added some caution, saying: "You never expect to have three goals in a half against Armagh.

"Again, we have to keep this in perspective. I don't mean to demean the McKenna Cup but it is the first competition of the season and people are still finding their feet and there is a degree of experimentation going on.

"It is good so far, but we aren't swinging from the rooftops at this stage."

Tonight at the Athletic Grounds, Tyrone have a chance to equal their own record, set between 2004 and 2007, of winning four consecutive Dr McKenna Cups. Their enduring appetite for January football has them meeting Cavan for the second consecutive year.

"If you are in a final you are there to win it," Harte says.

"Cavan were in the final last year and will probably be smarting over that. They will be thinking it's their time to win a trophy and they will be going after it the same way we are. But we are not going just to fulfil a fifth game. We want the cup, and will be trying very hard to get it."

With his term of service in charge of Tyrone teams long surpassing 20 years, Harte has a clear distaste for the ongoing 'indentured servitude' debate.

As a man who insisted on his Tyrone minors wearing a shirt and tie to games, and of a presentation of the jerseys, he has clear views on how he sees his involvement in intercounty football.

"It's not about making sacrifices, people choose to do what they choose to do. Nobody drives them to it.

"People who see it as a sacrifice shouldn't be there; it's a privilege and if it isn't a privilege for them, then they should find something else that satisfies them."

That's the reason he's still there. That's the reason Tyrone are still relevant.

TYRONE TEAM: N Morgan; A McCrory, Justin McMahon, C McCarron; R McNabb, Joe McMahon, B Tierney; P McNulty, C McCann; Mark Donnelly, R O'Neill, P Kane; K Coney, S Cavanagh (C), N McKenna

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