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It's asking a lot to knock Dublin off their perch, insists Tyrone boss Harte

 

By John Campbell

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is robustly challenging the widely-held theory that Dublin's ongoing dominance of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship is a new development within gaelic football.

Harte - whose side are due to meet Monaghan in the first of the Ulster Championship quarter-finals on Sunday week, a game which has already captivated the imagination of fans throughout the country - is adamant that the Sam Maguire Cup is there to be won but insists that any county which looks beyond their opening championship round is "foolish".

In an era in which there are demands for the All-Ireland series to be further overhauled notwithstanding the fact that the Super 8's, the new quarter-finals format, will only be staged for the first time this year, Harte preaches patience and caution as he steps up his championship preparations.

And he spells out in no uncertain terms just what teams have had to face up to in the past in their bid for glory.

"Let's face it, it has never been a level playing field for a long time in terms of provincial championships," states Harte.

"In Leinster, Dublin have been so far ahead and that's not their fault because they have been the best team in the country for some years now and that is challenging for the other teams in their province.

"But that's life. There was a time back in the Seventies when no teams except Dublin and Kerry needed to bother about All-Ireland titles or at least reaching the latter stages of the championship so there was actually a generation of teams from Ulster and Connacht who had no mission to win an All-Ireland title."

"The whole All-Ireland series has come in cycles. I think that while people still say not many teams can win the All-Ireland there was never really a period when it was otherwise."

Harte points to the dominance of Meath and Cork in the 1980s and insists that this further cements the historical nature of the championship.

"I honestly don't think that this trend will ever change an awful lot," points out Harte.

"It just happens that certain teams tend to dominate at different periods. I don't think we are ever going to get to the position where you can say that any one of eight of maybe 10 teams are capable of winning the All-Ireland title. That's the reality of life.

"Some people would like to think that there are various ways in which you could mix the championship format all up and then you might get a different outcome but you won't get that.

"The cream will always come to the top no matter what people might think. From our perspective, we are focused only on Monaghan. It would be foolish for any side to look beyond their first match."

Harte's assessment of this year's championship landscape comes at a time when speculation is rife that the new All-Ireland quarter-finals format will perhaps pave the way for 'dark horses' to come through in the race to 'Sam' with Galway and Monaghan among the sides being mentioned in this respect.

The national spotlight will be strongly focused on McHale Park, Castlebar on Sunday when Galway and Mayo go toe-to-toe in a Connacht Championship tie that could provide a strong pointer to the All-Ireland series.

"The Super 8's actually provide an extra incentive to teams to win their provincial championships and thus make headway through the front door," reflects Harte.

"I've always said I'd rather be winning the provincial title than going any other way in the championship. By doing that you can project better what is going to happen.

"When you are forced to take the qualifier route, you don't know what part of the country you might be going to, you might not know when you are playing and then on top of this the Super 8's will present an extra challenge. I'm sure that's not lost on any of us."

And Harte provides his own interesting slant on the reduced diet of live televised championship games that confronts followers.

"For many years there were no televised games so things have moved on a lot," says the triple All-Ireland winning Red Hands boss. "It has become the standard issue that we expect most matches to be televised live. But maybe there could be some added value to the decision in relation to the televising of games that more people might go along to the games.

"There may well be more energy and enthusiasm on the terraces as a result. Don't forget people will have the opportunity to watch the deferred televising of games and there will always be highlights shown.

"Maybe it will move more people away from the armchair and out into the games environment.

"That might not be such a bad thing at the end of the day."

Belfast Telegraph

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