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Harte magic has Tyrone in line for a dramatic final fling

 

By John Campbell

Should Tyrone go on to win their fourth All-Ireland title next month, then Mickey Harte will undoubtedly enter the pantheon of truly great managers.

Kevin Heffernan, Sean Boylan and Mick O'Dwyer have long since achieved immortality because of their majestic feats with Dublin, Meath and Kerry respectively, but Harte's already imposing credentials will be garnished to an unimagined extent should his side come good between now and tea-time on September 2.

There is, of course, the very real prospect that his Dublin counterpart Jim Gavin could enter the constellation of superstar managers should his side make it four consecutive captures of the greatest prize that football has to offer.

As Harte prepares to put the finishing touches to his team tonight for Sunday's mouth-watering All-Ireland semi-final against a Monaghan side armed with a ravenous desire to make the decider, he will surely do so comforted by a performance of touchline ingenuity that has rarely been matched at any level of late.

Let's recall the scenario that confronted Harte with just five minutes gone against Donegal at the cauldron that was MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey last Sunday.

Long-serving left-full-back Cathal McCarron had been ruled out for the rest of the season through injury, full-back Ronan McNamee had only got the green light to start after an application of "tons of ice", as he put it, on a damaged knee, and right-full-back Michael McKernan had been banished via a black card.

So much for his full-back line then. In addition, the normally deadly accurate Connor McAliskey had already been showing signs of jitters and Ryan McHugh looked as if he was about to run the show for Donegal.

There was not a hint of panic from Harte though.

Rory Brennan was despatched from the bench for McKernan, his brother Lee - who was to steal the show in the second-half - replaced the out-of-touch Ritchie Donnelly, and when the commanding Kieran McGeary replaced the struggling Frank Burns, the Red Hands suddenly shut up shop.

And at the other end of the field, Tyrone were to accumulate an impressive 2-17 yet, almost incredibly, with just one point of that total coming from play from a member of their starting full-forward line.

Mark Bradley is the player who hit the target, yet that mattered little as an astonishing 12 Tyrone players in all recorded scores with 2-5 coming from substitutes.

Such eye-watering statistics convey their own narrative, but it's hardly any wonder that Harte remains philosophical as he prepares for yet another battle of wits with a familiar adversary in Monaghan boss Malachy O'Rourke on Sunday.

Harte's emphasis on the word 'resilient' in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's display will certainly not have been lost on the canny O'Rourke either.

And, not surprisingly, he brings it up again in assessing Sunday's game.

"There is a resilience within this squad which has helped to take us to where we are now," insists Harte. "You have to be prepared to battle to the end. We were behind at half-time last Sunday but there were no panic measures. Everyone knew their job and did it well.

"The challenge for us now is to go out and replicate that form and spirit against Monaghan."

The spotlight will now fall on Harte's team selection, although the indications are that he will continue to hold in reserve those players who made such an indelible impact after they had been introduced last Sunday.

Any team which finds itself three points in arrears at half-time and that manages to win by seven - a 10-point turnaround - would appear to have the all-round resources and mental strength required for success, particularly with a manager right on top of his game.

Belfast Telegraph

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