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Legend Mickey Harte still the major influence at Tyrone


Dynamic duo: Tyrone assistant Gavin Devlin praised the work ethic of boss Mickey Harte

Dynamic duo: Tyrone assistant Gavin Devlin praised the work ethic of boss Mickey Harte

?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritcha

Dynamic duo: Tyrone assistant Gavin Devlin praised the work ethic of boss Mickey Harte

The notion that Mickey Harte's input into Tyrone's build-up to the Ulster senior football championship has been in any way diluted is emphatically rebuked by his assistant Gavin Devlin.

A two-time All-Ireland winner as a durable defender from 2003 to 2007, Devlin was recruited by Harte three years ago to assist with the conditioning of players.

However, with Peter Donnelly, another All-Ireland winner with the Red Hands, having left Cavan to throw in his lot with his native county as strength and conditioning coach, the affable Devlin is now much more identified with tactical planning and team strategy.

But the Ardboe clubman rubbishes the theory that Harte is currently in anything other than a front-stage role.

"If you take an overview of the year to date you will find that Mickey has been more hands on in the training than he has been this past couple of years," points out Devlin.

"He has been a major influence, there is no doubt about that. Don't forget a lot of changes in terms of playing personnel have had to be made - in fact, even in my time being involved with the team I would say that the changes have been drastic.

"It is well-known that we have been undergoing a period of transition."

A raft of retirements and a shift in the balance of power both at provincial and national level have served to transform the landscape from a Tyrone perspective but Devlin believes that Harte's authoritative presence and influence can prove to be major factors in the team's renaissance.

"From the time we played Armagh in the qualifiers last year until now there have been further changes and that just shows you how things are evolving," stresses Devlin.

"Under Mickey, we adhere to our team principles, every man gives his best, the players as a group work hard and I would say that the preparations for this Ulster Championship opener against Donegal on Sunday week in Ballybofey have been phenomenal."

When Harte was sidelined recently while recovering from a surgical procedure, it was initially thought that he might not be available for the Championship.

But it seems that he is now more determined than ever to see Tyrone regain their place on the Ulster throne.

"He has been back in there recently and it's great to have him back. We are going to be facing one of the top teams in the country in this Ulster Championship preliminary round tie and no better man than Mickey to oversee our challenge," insists Devlin.

Despite some encouraging performances in the league, Tyrone still suffered relegation to Division Two. However, that setback has not been allowed to impact morale for the championship nor indeed has the fact that Donegal have held the whip hand over the O'Neill County in recent years.

"I always believed that Donegal had the edge on us anytime we played them recently. Of course, the games have been tight but ultimately I felt Donegal were our masters so we have a considerable gap to close," states Devlin.

"We certainly have been trying to ensure that it will be closed through the work we have been doing on the training ground in recent weeks but we will not know if we are to be successful until Sunday week."

With skipper Sean Cavanagh and goalkeeper - and ace free-taker - Niall Morgan having recovered from injuries, Harte expects to have a full hand from which to choose against a Donegal side which still has some concerns about the fitness of Patrick McBrearty.

"Obviously we will have some more tough training sessions between now and the game taking place so the hope is that we will avoid any recurrence of injuries or indeed any fresh mishaps," adds Devlin.

Belfast Telegraph