Mickey Harte relishing the test of another Ulster campaign
MICKEY Harte says the influx of new players over the past 12 months has given him a “new lease of life” and expressed how much he’s enjoying the “great adventure” as Tyrone boss.
Now in his 14th year as senior manager, the Glencull man also believes that it’s unlikely the county will ever experience a richer harvest than the minors of ’97 and ’98 and the U21s of 2000 and 2001.
Harte guided those teams to unprecedented success and the vast majority of them went on to win three All-Ireland senior titles.
Last year, the Tyrone senior panel was greatly boosted by the introduction of the U21 contingent who had just won an All-Ireland title on the eve of the seniors’ Championship campaign.
Mark Bradley, Cathal McShane, Ruairi Brennan, Conor Meyler, Kieran McGeary and Lee Brennan are among those who have made the step up to the senior squad.
Asked to compare the U21s of last season and the minor sides of the late mid-to-late 90s, Harte said: “There’s an element of similarity there.
“Probably, we’ll never see again the amount of quality players that came along at one time in that minor team of ’97 and ’98 and the U21s of 2000 and 2001,” said the Tyrone manager.
“I think that was a really rich harvest that will not be equalled any time soon. But, to have the players we had coming off last year’s All-Ireland U21 success has been very valuable; there’s a winning mentality that comes with that and that can only be good.
“[But] We’ll go a while before we get the amount of highly talented players that came through at that time of Tyrone’s development.”
However, Harte added that supporters would need some patience with the class of '15, although the signs are very encouraging.
“I think good players always make progress. It may not be in a straight line - there could be injuries or a slight confidence thing.
“Various things come into play, but quality players will get better over time, especially in the modern era we live in. They’re going to physically develop probably faster than they would naturally and therefore they’re going to cope with that aspect of the game. "So, yes, I think they are players on an upward curve and that’s good for the future.”
And working with players that he never had the luxury of coaching before they reached the senior stage has rejuvenated the veteran manager.
“I’ve always said it since I got here: this is a privileged place to be – to be working with the best Gaelic footballers in Tyrone at a time when they are amongst the best, if not the best, in the country, and they have been in some years.
“I’ll never underestimate the privilege that it is. And then you see new players coming along, because this is a new lease of life for me too.
“Sean Cavanagh is the last man standing from the ’03 team. Everybody else is different. So that’s a whole new challenge, to create something special out of a whole lot of new players that I didn’t work with for a lot of years at underage level.
“So you have to be keep thinking, keep planning, keep trying to better yourself. You never stand still. This is a great adventure and I have to keep on learning.
“You have to take time to get a group of people back to a very good place.”
Harte also acknowledged that he doesn’t wonder or worry what his players get up to away from training, unlike some Tyrone players of previous eras.
“We’re talking different eras already – ’03 and ’16 are very different times to live and be sports people… The modern GAA football athlete are very dedicated people. They’re totally dedicated to their sport, they look after themselves so well and you don’t have to think about what they’re doing on the nights they’re not training with you, whereas maybe in ’03 I maybe had to do that.
“You could trust them with your life. They want to be in the best possible condition to deliver the best of themselves and they see the challenge that is there, if they don’t do that, somebody else will.”