Sport

Danny Hughes: Mickey Harte will be setting his sights on Sam Maguire

Tyrone players will have enjoyed a victory over their nearest provincial rivals but Mickey Harte's side must surely be looking towards an All-Ireland title in 2018 Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

MAYBE Tyrone’s win against Donegal sends out a message. Maybe. You get the feeling that, behind closed doors, Mickey Harte and his management team would have taken huge satisfaction in securing two points, especially against their most competitive rivals in Ulster.

Harte has seen Armagh teams come and go. Monaghan, Down and Fermanagh teams have had their moments over the years too. However, in most recent times, it has been Donegal who have challenged Harte and Tyrone’s supremacy most.

Mickey is a bit like Alex Ferguson in many ways. Both men have endured long spells when their authority was unchallenged from within and outside the camp.

Similarly, Harte is capable of being extremely charming on the one hand and equally ruthless on the other, very much like Ferguson himself.

The BBC interview with Mark Sidebottom a few weeks ago was testament to the fact that Mickey Harte, like everyone else, has his pressure points. When commentators and pundits ask questions or offer comment on any subject, criticism is viewed as personal, especially in GAA circles, whether that is football or hurling.

Why? Because it is, for like-minded individuals such as myself, the most personal thing in the world.

How can it be anything else?

My better half had a habit of saying to me after a defeat, ‘Sure it’s only a hobby’. To be honest, it drove me bananas.

When you put a huge amount of time and energy into anything, such as a club and county football team, it becomes a part of you, something that lies deep within the soul.

This is where Mickey Harte is with football and indeed Tyrone. It is much more than just a football team. So I can identify with that.

Sometimes when you are so deeply embedded in something, it can be difficult to leave emotion parked at the door.

Dublin boss Jim Gavin is a very measured man and, while others accuse him of being boring, Jim has had to learn to manage his emotions.

As a player, you can channel these into action, making a run or a having a shot or even robustly making a tackle.

As a manager, the outlet is not always as straightforward.

The referee might be on the receiving end of this outlet, so too will the players on occasion. More often than not these days, because of the intense spotlight and increasing amount of commercialism, the media will bear the brunt.

Much has been said of this Tyrone team in the last few years. Many had gotten ahead of themselves during last year’s campaign, none moreso than the Tyrone supporters themselves because of the way in which their county dismantled many of their opponents in the lead-up to the All-Ireland semi-final.

After ‘that’ heavy defeat, it was inevitable that the doubters would take some convincing.

Then again, I doubt if Harte has ever had to face such a mammoth footballing task as he does now.

To become a success by his own standards, he has to beat Dublin and win the All-Ireland title again.

The Red Hands are not blessed with the same type of player available to him when he first assumed the reins in 2003. Nor it seems has Tyrone built on the 2008 All-Ireland-winning team. The bar was set high in those five years from 2003 to 2008.

In a way, Mickey Harte is a victim of his own success. On the flip side, Mickey Harte is not infallible either.

I am not party to the inner workings of Tyrone club football, however, I have been involved in challenge matches against Tyrone teams, especially during pre-season with my own club.

Only last week, Saval played Eglish and, while they had dropped down a division in recent years, they certainly didn’t play like it.

One of the McKennas was playing and he was the stand-out player on the made me question the validity of having any manager steer a team for so long.

Sometimes, the stigma associated with any player if he were to leave a set-up or be dropped from it is enough to ensure the individual may never have the chance of representing their county again.

I am not saying that this happens in Tyrone, nor am I necessarily just talking about Mickey Harte here.

I am sure in Kilkenny the same could be said of Brian Cody.

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness had a phenomenal impact in Donegal and he felt that it took four seasons to really enshrine his personal legacy in Donegal.

It has been eight years since McGuinness assumed the Tir Chonaill helm and the contrast to Tyrone is a stark one with Donegal now into their third manager in those eight years alone.

They have turned over personnel and found some genuine talent. And with each new management team, a freshness will inevitably be welcomed from the players’ perspective.

Within Ulster alone, there are four of the nine counties under ‘new’ management; Antrim, Fermanagh, Donegal and Derry.

It looks at this stage as though two of these teams could still be promoted and it appears likely that Donegal will be relegated.

Therefore, this perceived ‘bounce’ from a change in the helm of a team certainly does not correlate with immediate results.

Eamonn Burns is in his third season with the Mournemen and, historically, with the exception of Tyrone, it appears to be a make or break season for any manager.

Down do look to be in trouble. However, with games against fellow strugglers Meath and a good Tipperary side, ultimately their destiny lies within their grasp.

Few could argue with Burns, in that creating chances does not appear to be the county’s problem. The conversion rate of these same chances is the issue.

Mickey Harte has seen six different managers (including Pete McGrath) since 2002 come and go in Down without even conceding an Ulster title to the Mournemen.

The closest Down have been was a quarter-final replay win in 2008, a year in which Harte ultimately had the last laugh by seizing Sam.

I played under three of these Down managers and, by my own admission, each one of them along with their own management teams, made me a better player.

I cannot with any great certainty say that I reciprocated and made them a better manager.

The important thing, though, was progress and each manager did just that, almost culminating in silverware.

Tyrone, though, have a unique model.

Harte has spoiled them and they have spoiled Harte. Both are in a marriage where they love one another to a fault, so much so, that they cannot separate. Yet ultimately, one of them is going to get hurt.

So for now, for this reason alone, Tyrone will support Harte and Harte will support Tyrone. The bar is an All-Ireland title and, with Dublin so dominant and just so unbeatable, this appears beyond most Ulster teams’ capabilities at this time.

Yes, Tyrone’s two points were important at the weekend. Only now, though, are they important in their eyes. The Red Hands’ only bar used to be All-Irelands...

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