Enda McGinley: Who would be an inter-county football manager?
THE rough and tumble nature of politics appears to be mirrored by that of the inter-county manager. Even the lessons within the political sphere seem applicable to the bainisteoir bib.
They say in politics a lie unanswered for 24 hours becomes a truth, unfortunately then for Mickey Harte, his strong riposte to Mark Sidebottom’s questioning in the aftermath of the Dr McKenna Cup final will have done little to break the negative lens through which Tyrone have been viewed for several years.
The whole issue of defensive football and the teams at greatest fault is an area so stained with ‘fake news’ and subjectivity that it is almost impossible to find the truth.
I firmly believe that even if you produced a thesis on the issue, it wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s written on as people are so entrenched in their views. Harte’s outburst then was borne out of frustration as much as anything else. It surprised those who only usually see the mild-mannered Harte.
The much more competitive, ruthless one that appeared is the one that will be familiar to anyone who has played under him.
It is that one that is present in the team huddles. The glimpse of steel exhibited is why he has been able to have complete command over his teams for over two decades and why he has won what he has won.
The ‘pressure’ which some suggest he is now under is typical of the desire to create stories and narratives within the game.
In the past year, Ulster has had laughable changes in opinion regarding managers’ performances.
As well as Harte, Kieran McGeeney, Rory Gallagher, Eamon Burns and Mattie McGleenan have come in for quite serious criticism and the inevitable ‘mounting pressure’ at times, while Pete McGrath lost his job in Fermanagh.
All those mentioned have, at other times been presented as kings of all they survey.
At present McGleenan and Gallagher in particular are both on great runs with their Cavan and Fermanagh charges yet neither will, of course, be taking any solace from that.
Perhaps the most important attribute in any manager is, therefore, a firm faith in their own beliefs, allowing them to ignore outside comment.
There are endless ways to approach the game and a team’s preparations, yet only one team can ever be put out.
Given that any team can have ‘one of those days’ or players can have off-days or decisions can go against you, managers must remain true to their overarching vision for what they want that team and the individual players to develop into.
He must have a belief and understanding of his vision that remains firm and doesn’t just float in the breeze reacting to every result.
Given the scrutiny they are under and the opinions and pressure they are exposed to this is a much easier thing to say than to have in reality.
The greatest art, however, is the ability to recognise the key defining results or performances, either individually or as a team which indicate a need to change course.
What Mickey Harte indicated in his interview was that he did not view the Dublin result last year as one of those moments.
He is confident he has the team on the right path and with some slight modifications will have them playing to their potential.
In all the Ulster camps there is reason for positivity and signs that teams are on the right track. Interestingly, looking across the Ulster teams, Tyrone arguably appear the team furthest from hitting top gear.
Given that they won Ulster last year at a canter the others did have catching up to do.
In general, for Ulster sides, these are encouraging times, but the next mini-crisis is sure to be looming soon for someone.
Given the fixture list this weekend, the pencils are being sharpened already.
This weekend’s fixtures have the potential to be a complete festival of great games.
Two all-Ulster ties – Tyrone v Monaghan and Derry v Fermanagh – are massive games for all involved.
By continuing their great run of form, Fermanagh can nail down their promotion push while Derry can go a long way to saving themselves by building on their win over Offaly.
Tyrone and Monaghan, in a dress rehearsal for their Championship date in May, is sure to be a massive fixture.
Harte’s angry retort after the Dr McKenna Cup game let the mask slip that the endless negativity surrounding Tyrone is starting to rankle.
That guarantees a massively fired-up Tyrone.
Monaghan, meanwhile, continue to work with the Farney tourism board to bring teams to every venue in the county as the Red Hands travel to Castleblayney.
It’s the oldest ploy in the book to bring teams to less well-known grounds, close the gates and play ball. It worked against Kerry and they will be hoping it does the trick against Tyrone too.
Declan Bonner, meanwhile, knows that the strange positivity that is surrounding Donegal despite their three losses from three will evaporate very quickly this weekend if they don’t manage to get a home win over fellow pointless side Kildare.
As we approach the midway point of the League, I’d term this weekend ‘moving weekend’. While no-one will confirm themselves as either relegation or promotion certainties, it will be fairly clear after this weekend whether teams are looking up or down.
Tiny margins this weekend are likely to have a major bearing on the final League positions so expect things to be hotly contested.
Mickey Harte and the rest of the managers will know that all questions are easier answered when the points are in the bag.