Behind Down's dreamy story, Mickey Harte is still the man
“I remember in later years Mickey got a psychologist on board to try and help out, but nobody was going to come in that was a better speaker than him. The players wanted to listen to Mickey. They didn’t want anybody else coming in.” – Peter Canavan on Mickey Harte - ‘Voices of Croke Park’
THE Ulster Championship was crying out for a new narrative. Over the last number of seasons, Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan were the untouchables. The rest of the province were ‘also-rans’.
Out of the pack emerged Down to provide Ulster with the shot in the arm it desperately needed.
The Down footballers are a great story.
Ever since he did his county a favour by taking the reins, Eamonn Burns has been cast as the proverbial dead man walking.
Since June 4, the unassuming Bryansford man’s stock has soared.
Playing Division Three for Glassdrumman, the gloriously untamed Connaire Harrison has been the name on everyone’s lips this summer.
The public have been treated to the swaggering Kilcoo boys and rookies Shay Millar and Niall Donnelly have got the whole of Ulster curious.
Joe Brolly was right when he said that there is something wonderfully non-partisan about Down. Everybody can enjoy them.
While only the coldest heart would begrudge Eamonn Burns his place on centre stage this Sunday there is a tendency to regard Mickey Harte, his opposite number, as part of the GAA furniture at this stage.
What more is there to know about a serial winner.
Mickey’s association with Tyrone teams date back to well over 20 years.
He’s been around so long we expect him to be always there.
I stepped into the Irish News offices and caught the tail end of Art MacRory and Eugene McKenna’s reign as Tyrone managers.
Ever since, it has been Mickey Harte at the helm.
He’s seeped into our sub-conscious to such an extent that it’s hard to imagine anyone else other than him being manager of Tyrone.
Maybe it’s an innately Irish trait or just the impatience of today’s modern world where begrudgery takes an irrational grip of our senses.
If you hang around long enough you will incur people’s wrath.
You could be forgiven in thinking that there’s a healthy ambivalence towards all things Tyrone and Mickey Harte on The Sunday Game.
Joe Brolly has criticised him on several platforms.
At the end of Tyrone’s Ulster Championship win over Derry in May, Colm O’Rourke seemed to sneer at the fact that Harte had the temerity to crack a smile and share a light-hearted moment with official Joe McQuillan.
It's hard to understand the relevance, or motivation of these observations.
Sometimes you are left with the impression that the Tyrone manager is an easy target because he refuses to speak with RTE.
Of course not known to be a shrinking violet Harte, among other GAA managers, criticised RTE’s punditry style earlier this week and lauded Sky's.
It's also astonishing to note the Tyrone County Board has not granted Harte a new managerial term beyond 2017.
Somewhere along the line perspective was misplaced.
When you consider Harte's journey over the last 20 years or more, it's hard to find a better role model in the GAA.
The road Tyrone football has travelled hasn't always been easy.
Paul McGirr tragically died while playing for Tyrone, aged just 18.
Kevin 'Hub' Hughes, one of Tyrone's leading lights in the 'Noughties', lost a brother and sister in separate car accidents.
Cormac McAnallen left this world far too soon while the Harte family carries the unimaginable grief of losing Michaela.
A lesser man would have succumbed to these awful things and drifted off into the ether.
Harte has always led from the front.
To many of the past and present Tyrone players, he has been more than a football manager to them. He’s been a mentor, a father figure.
He is an inspirer of people.
Every day he’s on the sidelines is a triumph of the human spirit.
By him refusing to succumb to life’s bitter challenges inspires people far beyond the confines of a changing room.
In terms of his football management skills, Peter Canavan commented: “Mickey’s fine-tuning the week before a match was his biggest strength.
“You looked forward to the week before a game because you knew there’d be great intensity about him and he’d pick up on a few points to hone in on and hammer home.
“Mickey made sure you were in the right frame of mind. In the team meeting on the morning of a match he would have left you in no doubt that this was going to be our day. That was the biggest strength that I found in Mickey.”
There is any number of glowing testimonies from those who worked closest with him.
In today’s Irish News, former Tyrone ace Brian McGuigan explains how Harte’s unshakable belief in his players was the bedrock of their success.
In an interview with Gavin Devlin last year, Tyrone’s 2003 All-Ireland winning centre-back and now assistant manager had an acute sense of Harte’s place in the game.
“I know I’ll look back some day and think that was one of my proudest moments standing on the sideline with Mickey,” he said.
“He’s just a unique man. I always knew Mickey the manager; I always knew him, felt I always knew him.
“But it’s only in the last few years I’ve got to know Mickey the man. He’s a completely different chap.
“We’d be watching soccer games together – he’d be a big Manchester United fan and I’m a big Liverpool fan – we play golf together and we go and watch other teams playing."
“Even when I was playing, Mickey and I would’ve had conversations about the game. I always found him easy to talk to. Not everyone did…
“But I’d talk to Mickey as well as I’d talk to my own father.”
Mickey will assume his position on the sidelines in Clones on Sunday afternoon with every box ticked and he will enjoy the feeling of grass under his feet.
Tyrone football won't know itself when he is no longer their leader.
That's why we should appreciate the man in the here and now.
Because there is nothing like the present.