GAA Football

Danny Hughes: Are we judging Mickey Harte too harshly?

STANDARDS TOO HIGH: Danny Hughes believes we may be judging Mickey Harte and Tyrone too harshly.
Picture: Philip Walsh

Tyrone are a good team. You don’t get to a semi-final of the All-Ireland two years in-a-row on luck alone.

While they were beaten in the final by Dublin last year, that result was to be expected.

Tyrone can count themselves unlucky to be up against what happens to be the best team I have seen in my lifetime.

I am sure Dublin will make it five on the bounce on Sunday week and, going on how their nearest competitors are shaping up at the minute, they may win seven or eight All-Irelands in-a-row.

I just can’t see how Jim Gavin’s men can be stopped and the way he manages appears to keep the players guessing, forever having to prove themselves to him from game to game.

They are hungry players on a constant war footing.

You also have that conveyor belt constantly churning out quality players from the U20 and minor levels.

Gavin extended his term until 2021 last year but I don’t think he will continue after that. There will be no need as his legacy will have been secured by then.

But I am not sure he has given his legacy a second thought.

He doesn’t appear to have much time for sentiment.

While things are going exactly to plan for Dublin, there are big decisions to be made in Tyrone over the next few months.

I am aware of the personal baggage that is carried having lost an All-Ireland final.

It is a terrible burden at times.

Thoughts of ‘what might have been’ are never far away from your mind.

Had Down won in 2010, extending our tally to six titles, it would have given a bit more daylight between Tyrone and ourselves, which remains important from a Down perspective.

Since the last of our five was won, Tyrone have won three All-Irelands, all under Mickey Harte’s management.

But that only tells part of the story.

Tony Donnelly, previously Harte’s

right-hand man, was regarded as being very tactically astute and an important part of each All-Ireland success.

Paddy Tally, who played a major role in laying the foundations in 2003, parted ways with Harte the following year.

There may have been disagreements behind the scenes, which happens at the top level, but it appeared that all was well on a grander scale with two more All-Irelands delivered after Tally’s departure.

By 2008, Harte’s position as manager was as safe as houses.

However, Tyrone have now gone 11 years without an All-Ireland triumph.

If you are measuring success on that basis, they have failed.

But then again, from an Ulster perspective only Donegal have won one since.

Down are without an Ulster title since 1994, so I’m hardly qualified to weigh up success on that front.

I know how difficult an Anglo-Celt is to win, having been beaten in two Ulster finals and more semi-finals and

quarter-finals than I care to remember.

Harte has seen Armagh, Monaghan and Donegal all win Anglo-Celts during his tenure, but during his time Tyrone have always been provincial title contenders at the very least.

I think you have to put success in context.

I always say that if you measure the intelligence of a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will always be stupid.

What I am trying to say is that in recent years we may well have been measuring Tyrone on the wrong scale.

In terms of success as a player, it is hardly my place to start lecturing Tyrone people on the merits of keeping faith with, or axing, Mickey Harte.

Those who have played – and more importantly won many titles – under Harte are best qualified to comment on whether it is the right time for a change at the helm.

Sean Cavanagh is on record as saying it is indeed time for a change.

I would suggest he has his finger on the pulse in terms of the feelings of at least a section of the Tyrone support.

His opinion may be dismissed in some quarters because Harte’s faithful following will say he has an agenda given that since his retirement, Cavanagh has had a few swipes at Harte.

Meanwhile, Owen Mulligan sees any public utterances against Mickey as disloyal, and he is also perfectly entitled to give his opinion as a Tyrone legend.

When I quit inter-county football – a confusing time for any player – I was rather bitter about how it all ended as I wanted to make that final call, as opposed to having someone else make the decision for me.

I thought I was owed that.

But football isn’t like that, and neither is management.

When I got the chance to take a swipe at James McCartan in public, I took it.

Do I regret it?

Yes, because in the end, the personal stuff lasts longer than results ever do.

I idolised McCartan as a child and then as my manager so it probably hurt on all sides.

Whatever way you look at the decisions Tyrone have to make in the coming months and years – and we should bear in mind Mickey Harte has a deal for next year – I don’t think there will be a right or wrong answer.

One thing for certain is that the Tyrone County Board have been very loyal to their manager from the moment he took over in 2002.

I’m sure since 2008 there have been occasions when this loyalty has been tested, and I’m also sure Harte is aware of this.

And, akin to my own situation, there will certainly have been ‘fallings-out’ between the manager and players over the years.

I know from personal experience that a fresh voice in the changing room does allow players inside and outside the squad to feel re-invigorated and re-energised.

Perhaps in time Mickey Harte will realise that things rarely end like you would have envisaged.

Tyrone made a deal with Harte until the end of the 2020 campaign and I think when you have a deal with someone you honour it – like them, love them, or hate them.

Tyrone have still been massively successful since 2003.

They’ve written an entire football history in that time, dealt with unimaginable grief collectively and personally, and come upon an era where Dublin are cementing themselves as the greatest team ever.

Looking on from outside the camp, and using a bit of experience, I can say it is a time for cool heads.

It is certainly a time of perspective and honour.

After all a deal is a deal.

And at the very minimum you honour that. And Mickey Harte deserves that respect at the very least.

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