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We must all raise game to close gap on Dublin, says Harte

Rallying call: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte with Dublin
counterpart Jim Gavin
Rallying call: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte with Dublin counterpart Jim Gavin
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Few people have had a better acquaintance with the current Dublin side than Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.

So when the triple All-Ireland-winning boss fires out a challenge to every other side to improve their standards, it should not be taken lightly.

And when he pinpoints what he feels could prove the alternative, it's a chilling message that needs to be absorbed.

"Unless other teams lift their standards and mount a better challenge for the All-Ireland title, Dublin could reign for God knows how long," insisted Harte.

Dublin's expansive player pool, the unprecedented backing which the county board receives from various sponsors and the fanatical zeal of the many thousands of followers who idolise the side are factors which convince many that the boys in blue will not be easily knocked off their pedestal.

Kerry, though, may have come close to achieving that in the drawn All-Ireland final, but their profligacy in squandering two goal chances, one from a penalty, in the opening 20 minutes were to prove critical setbacks as 14-man Dublin earned another bite at the cherry.

But in advance of Saturday's eagerly-awaited replay, Harte's assessment tends to put things into context.

"There were a lot of variables which happened in the drawn game, including, of course, the sending off of Jonny Cooper," pointed out Harte.

"At that juncture, Dublin were quite well in control.

"That had to have a bearing on the outcome but, at the same time, Kerry had to fight their way back from what I think was a five-point deficit.

"Regardless of the fact that Dublin had one fewer man, Kerry deserve a lot of credit for what they got out of the match. Maybe, too, there's the thought that, given that many of the Dublin players have so many All-Ireland medals, there's perhaps not quite the same hunger there.

"Yes, they are out there trying to establish records and be the best they have ever been as a county, but I think somewhere deep inside the rest of us have to believe that it can't have the same appeal for someone who has five or six medals to want a seventh, an eighth or a ninth."

In their two All-Ireland final meetings with Mayo immediately prior to last year's clash with Tyrone, Dublin just managed to get over the line by a point before having six to spare against the Red Hands (2-17 to 1-14) after Harte's men had made life extremely difficult for themselves by shooting an uncharacteristic 16 wides.

With Dublin's drive for five still in top gear and Kerry's desire to make manager Peter Keane's season a dream come true, Harte believes that Saturday's replay could prove a spellbinding encounter.

"If we had a crystal ball, we could maybe tell what is going to happen but, in the absence of that, we just have to look at certain factors," stressed Harte.

"For a start there's the weather, then there is a different referee in Conor Lane who I feel will control the game in his own unique way and, who knows, if there's another sending off or something like that then all of these elements can throw everything else out the window.

"You would still have to believe that Dublin are good enough to win. You would feel that if some of their players who did not produce their usual standards in the drawn game step up to the mark then you would think that they should beat Kerry.

"But Kerry being Kerry, no one will rule them out. They have history and tradition on their side, and their younger players are not a bit in awe of Dublin, but while it's difficult to say anything definitively about the game, the law of averages would say that the Dubs should come out on top."

And while Harte like everyone else is focused on Saturday's replay, he is also happy that new management appointments have been made in Ulster and initial preparations for next season are under way in every county.

The three new county team bosses - Seamus McEnaney (Monaghan), Rory Gallagher (Derry) and Ryan McMenamin (Fermanagh) - have already got down to business by attending club Championship matches in their respective counties.

"It's good to see that the appointments have been made and that it's all systems go," maintained Harte.

"You have people like Seamus McEnaney in there who has his heart and soul in Monaghan football."

And Harte acknowledges that in capturing former Tyrone strength and conditioning coach Peter Donnelly, McEnaney has secured a prized asset.

"Seamus has put together a good package and the county won't lack for passion and energy, that's for sure," insisted Harte.

"Obviously in Peter Donnelly they have a top-class strength and conditioning coach and with Conor Laverty in there to help with the coaching side of things Seamus has a good back-up team."

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