GAA Football

Cream will rise to the top no matter what the format says Mickey Harte

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Picture by Seamus Loughran

THE idea that any change in format would make the race for Sam Maguire less predictable is unrealistic in the eyes of Tyrone boss Mickey Harte.

The Ballygawley native will lead the Red Hands into championship fare for the 16th season when they begin their defence of the Ulster title against Monaghan on Sunday.

The qualifier system that would aid them in their All-Ireland winning campaigns of 2005 and 2008 had only been introduced two years before he took over, and this season sees the first major structural change to the championship since then with the inception of the Super 8 quarter-finals.

Harte has long advocated the idea of reforming the latter stages of the All-Ireland series to offer provincial champions a second bite at the cherry, but feels that no matter how it structured, the best teams will generally rise to the top.

“It’s never a level playing field in terms of provincial championships, and hasn’t been for a long time.

“There was a time back in the 70s when nobody only Dublin or Kerry need bother about All-Irelands or the latter stages of it.

“There was a generation of teams from Ulster and Connacht that had no mission to win an All-Ireland. The only way they’d get to the final would be the year they met each other, and invariably they didn’t win there.

“The whole thing takes cycles. I think while people say not many teams can win the All-Ireland, there never were many that could.

“There was another time when Meath and Cork dominated, and other teams would dip in here and there.

“There are always stronger teams than the rest for a certain period of time and I don’t know if that will ever change an awful lot.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to get 8 or 10 teams that you could say are really likely to win the All-Ireland. That’s the reality of life.

“Some people like to think there are various ways you could mix this all up and get a different outcome, but you won’t. The cream will come to the top.”

The lack of live TV coverage for this weekend’s eagerly anticipated clash in Healy Park has been one of the major talking points in the build-up to this year’s Championship.

RTÉ have instead plumped for the Munster SHC clash of Clare and Cork for their live broadcast, although full coverage of the game will be shown deferred on BBC NI later on Sunday evening.

Excluding the four finals, there will be just three provincial football games shown live on TV this summer but Harte doesn’t buy the idea that the broadcasters overlooking it is demeaning towards the provincial championships and feels that could have a positive on the atmosphere at the matches.

“I don’t know that it demeans it. There were many years when there were no provincial games live on TV at all. Things have moved on a lot and it became standard issue that you expected these games to be live on TV.

“Maybe there could be some added value that more people will go along to the games, that there’ll be more energy and enthusiasm on the terraces when we go to these games because people aren’t able to sit at home and see them as they happen.

“People change systems and try out new things. This is a three-year experiment that enough people at Congress decided it was worth doing.

“I’d say let’s work with it and see how it goes, and those who are involved in it will probably be the best people to judge how successful it is.

“These games will go on, people will see them and there’ll be deferred presentations and highlights. Maybe it’ll move more people away from the armchair and out into the games.”

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