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Don't judge Red Hands on trophies alone, says boss Harte

By Declan Bogue

During Tyrone's most successful years, the figure of Mickey Harte standing on the sidelines, arms folded and studying the field of play, was a familiar and comforting sight.

Pacing up and down, like Paddy O'Rourke who started out in senior management in the same year of 2003, isn't for him. Nor is the fist-pumping exuberance of Monaghan's Banty McEnaney.

Harte has always held true to the principle that all the coaching has been done before the players cross the white line. The problems could be sorted on-field by themselves. He is not so much a football manager as a sideline scientist.

It's unsurprising then that he rejects all talk of hoodoos and bogey teams as the Red Hands prepare to meet Donegal in the Ulster final on Sunday.

"I have to look at the performances in all of those previous games against Donegal," he said. "Were we no-hopers who were just unable to beat this team? Or did events on the day conspire to knock us on the wrong side of the result? If that's the way you look at it, anything is possible."

Six seasons is a long time to spend away from the Ulster final, and it hasn't sat right with Harte and the footballers in Tyrone.

In the build-up to this decider there have been features written about their seminal meeting in the Ulster semi-final of 2011 when young Dermot 'Brick' Molloy's goal smashed the Tyrone machine.

The world is a different place now. Team jerseys back then were parachutes in comparison to the spray-on latex of today. Michael Murphy has lost all the remaining puppy fat.

Ryan McMenamin et al are gone. Jim McGuinness is no longer Donegal boss. 'Brick' plays more guitar than football nowadays.

Tyrone's long road back brings its own pressures. People are talking about destiny and defining moments, more abstract concepts that Harte doesn't care for.

"I suppose you could say it is a defining moment for us and our squad and people will ultimately judge on the narrow view of trophies acquired," he said.

"I believe success is about much more than that, but it is very hard to convince people when you are without silverware that your progress is worth as much as you think it is. It's nice to back up progress with silverware.

"I don't see it as the end of the world if we don't win it. It would be a setback and I would be disappointed for the players and all of us and the people of Tyrone. But I still think there is a quality side developing at the moment and, sooner or later, we are going to see that quality."

We can't tell whether that message is being delivered in the dressing room or whether it is just an attempt to relieve some of the pressure from his somewhat callow team.

What we do know is that, since 2011, Donegal have changed the terms that Gaelic football is played on. They devised a system that felt like quicksand for other sides.

In Championship football, Donegal have played Monaghan the most (five times), the sides picking up two victories apiece and a draw. After that, it has been Tyrone (four times) with four straight wins for Donegal - and four straight defeats for Harte's side.

It can be argued that Harte has moulded this present group in Donegal's image. They organise themselves in defence and rely on good communication. They leave Mattie Donnelly in the Michael Murphy role as first responder to a turnover, and they have pace everywhere to counter-attack.

Harte was happy to expand on the theory. He said: "Football has been played for a very long time now, and teams are successful in different ways. Other managers and coaches will look at what was successful for teams and see how much they can apply to the players at their disposal.

"I think that's what Jim McGuinness did. He applied some of the things we had done and some of the things Dublin, Kerry and other teams had done.

"Then, of course, when they were successful with the way they went, others took what they did. That's the beauty of our game; it's not a fixed or finished product, it's always a product in the making."

One essential ingredient, however, is pace; a point noted by Sean Cavanagh after their counter-attacking masterclass in the Ulster semi-final when they blew Cavan away with four of their five goals coming from ball turned over.

"The skill level hasn't been eradicated altogether. There is a place for very skilful players and players with vision. There is a place for the high-fielders, but in the middle of that you need a certain number of people with a lot of pace," Harte noted.

The hype machine has been humming loudly since this final paring became a reality. Perhaps it is something to do with the small size of Tyrone as a GAA county, but anticipation is great.

As far back as the start of last week, former Donegal manager McGuinness said the clash was as important to each side as an All-Ireland final.

"I just see it as a very important game in its own right," added Harte. "It points to the fact, and we have talked about it for a long time, that the Ulster Championship is special.

"People really want the title and they go after it with all their might.

"People talk about it as being like the Munster Hurling Championship and I really do believe that is the case.

"It is the most competitive football Championship on the island and therefore it means an awful lot.

"If people are winning them time and time again in other provinces they don't see the value in them, but when you see how difficult it is to win an Ulster title, there is a real value to it and this for me is a real value game in its own right."

TYRONE (V Donegal, USFC final): N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, Justin McMahon, P Harte; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; C McShane, N Sludden, R McNabb; C McAliskey, S Cavanagh, R O'Neill

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