County board and Harte must find agreement for future's sake
FROM 1901 until 1950, when he retired at the age of 87, Connie Mack set records that, to this day, remain unbroken in Major League Baseball.
He was recruited to manage the Philadelphia Athletics and, having bought a 25 per stake in the club which then became full control in 1936, he was to stay in charge for almost five full decades.
His dynasties were built by developing young players. When they became stars and won championships, he sold them off, unable to afford them any more. Then, he built another team.
After 50 years, he left with the most managerial wins, losses and games in Major League history.
Upon retiring at the age of 87, his win record stood at 48 per cent from over 7,000 games. He had won nine American League Championships and taken the Athletics to eight World Series, winning five.
Yet, even this hero had stayed long enough to become the villain. For the last decade of his reign, he was besieged by calls to step down.
He refused to consider the idea until, eventually, some 49 years after taking charge, he retired.
“I’m not quitting because I’m getting old, I’m quitting because I think people want me to,” he said after eventually agreeing to go.
In 1954, just four years after Mack stepped down, the Athletics finished bottom of the American League, with just 51 wins from 154 games.
By the end of that year, they were days from bankruptcy, when the club was bought over and moved to Kansas City. The club was, in effect, shut down.
Right now, Tyrone football is facing something of a similar situation: how do they best plan for the future?
The current manager, Mickey Harte, will go down in the annals of history. With the county’s first, second and third All-Ireland titles having been annexed in his care, as well as five Ulster titles, no-one will ever forget the Ballygawley man’s name.
This season, the 14th of his reign with the seniors and his 25th consecutive year involved with a Tyrone team in all, brought the provincial title back.
He has lost all but a couple of the servants who brought those three Sam Maguires and has set about building a new team with a new style of play.
He headed towards the end of the 2015 season in limbo, with no new deal in place. A two-year term was eventually agreed.
Harte’s supporters would say this year was another step forward, with a first Ulster title in six years procured.
Detractors would say they didn’t hit the heights of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final performance against Kerry. But his request for the certainty of at least the 2018 season was rejected.
It’s become an unsightly mess. It’s been rumoured Harte’s impasse with RTÉ - with which most right-minded people would agree - is a major stumbling block.
Harte wants to continue the rebuilding job that has seen a team that had its earliest ever Championship exit just three-years-ago become a provincial champion and All-Ireland contender once more.
The Tyrone county board clearly want to keep their options open, as is their wont. But it would be completely wrong of them to force their greatest ever manager out the door.
Manchester United never made moves to displace Alex Ferguson. Nottingham Forest never forced Brian Clough’s hand. They went in their own time because that’s what they’d earned.
Mickey Harte is in the same boat. With the success he has had, he should go when he wants to go.
He earned that three times in the last decade, and again in the last two years, by imprinting a new style of play on a new team.
If this was a manager like Connie Mack, who was showing signs of having failed to move with the times or was no longer getting the best out of his team, then you could buy the county board’s decision.
But they have just won back the Ulster title and, as poor as they were against Mayo, they were probably a kick of a ball away from being in Sunday’s All-Ireland final.
An unnecessary storm cloud lingers over Garvaghey. The extra year Harte wants is something the Tyrone county board has to concede, be it this autumn or next.
Not only that, but they must also make moves to rebuild the bridge with him in a bid to ensure that, when he does go, the transition is smooth.
What happens to his successor if Harte is forced out the door? Who on God’s green earth would want to step into the shoes then? Whatever the facts of any such appointment, it would look like a coup.
None of the men who might have fancied a go at it would want it in those circumstances. But if the relationship was repaired and, in two or three years’ time, Harte does decide his own time is up, then they could work together on a succession plan.
Look at how it’s worked out for Tipperary hurlers. When Eamonn O’Shea decided he wouldn’t be seeking reappointment, the Tipp county board began looking for the new man a year in advance.
That Michael Ryan was already in his backroom team was fortunate, but it allowed him to see what he’d be facing and the players to know what was coming.
Say, for argument’s sake, Tyrone’s next man was to be Fergal Logan. Mickey Harte decides he’s going in 2019.
Bring Logan in for that season, get him used to the players and the system and vice-versa. Make it as seamless as possible.
If there isn’t an amicable air to how Harte’s time comes to an end, then it could be a difficult few years for Tyrone - and a nearly impossible job for whoever takes over.