GAA Football

Mickey Harte hits out at 'soundbite mentality' ahead of Mayo test

 Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Cahir O'Kane

MICKEY Harte says the suggestion county players are shackled to a regime with no freedom is because of a “soundbite mentality”.

Tipperary manager Liam Kearns’s comments about giving his players the freedom to enjoy themselves socially after a victory made headlines recently in light of their stunning run to the last four of the All-Ireland series.

Kearns said: “From my point of view, I would believe that the psychological aspect of team bonding by celebrating a victory would far outweigh the scientific benefits… I think socialising together is still the best way to grow a team ethic.”

Harte believes that the notion that county players have no freedom in their lives is “much exaggerated” and that, ultimately, players make the sacrifices because they want to.

“That’s the symptoms of the soundbite mentality and media circles that sometimes we have to listen to – or not sometimes, but quite often.

“It’s just the soundbites that are sent out there and when you send something out there often enough, people do start to believe it and that’s the unfortunate fact of life.

“I’ve said many times that nobody is forced into playing Gaelic games. Nobody forces anybody onto a county panel, and nobody forces them to attend to what they need to do to become a top-class Gaelic football athlete.

“They choose to do that and in this modern era you have players who choose a lifestyle that gives them the best chance to deliver the best of themselves as a Gaelic football athlete.

“I’m just amazed at the dedication of our modern-day Gaelic football athletes in this county and I totally respect what they do.

“The enjoyment comes in the satisfaction that they feel when they achieve something that they worked hard for and set out to do.”

Harte takes his side to Croke Park on Saturday for his fourth Championship meeting with Mayo. Defeats in 2004 and 2013 sandwich their Qualifier victory in 2008.

Recalling that season, Harte knows all-too-well the threat of a capable but out-of-sorts team like this Mayo crop.

A point separated them in a scrappy, low quality game. It was a revenge of sorts for having been stripped of their All-Ireland title in 2004.

But the optimism afterwards about playing Dublin in a quarter-final was scarce in Tyrone. They’d lost their Ulster crown to Down and were fairly unspectacular in scraping past Louth, Westmeath and Mayo.

What followed was one of their era-defining performances. Tyrone didn’t just beat Dublin. They inflicted a heaviest Championship defeat in 30 years upon them.

Harte knew his double All-Ireland winning crop hadn’t suddenly become a bad team. They just needed to click.

A lot like Mayo right now.

“We had arrived in the quarter-final against Dublin who were much more fancied than we would ever be for this game, and we all know what happened there. We just really hit a good note that day and the rest is history.

“I think Mayo will be very happy. At the start of the year they were on everyone’s lips as one of the top three teams in the country and likely candidates for the All-Ireland.

“The fact that they have just lost the game in Connacht when they were going for six Connacht titles in-a-row, you can’t just dismiss all that and say it is of no significance.

“That is still the Mayo that started out this season and that is still the Mayo that is in the All-Ireland

quarter-final and that is still the Mayo that we have to deal with if we want to be in the semi-final.”

Rather than a team without a plan, Mayo have looked like a side with a flawed blueprint this season.

Losing their Connacht title for the first time since 2010 and staggering their way back to the doors of Croke Park is not typical of their summer form in recent seasons.

The performances have not been of the level that has taken them to an All-Ireland semi-final in each of the last five seasons – but that record is more than enough to have Harte on guard.

“Mayo are a very difficult opponent because they’re probably the top team in the country that haven’t won an All-Ireland,” says Harte.

“That in itself is a great incentive because people will speak that way about them but also people will say how many finals they lost.

“You could turn that on its head and say: ‘There are lots of teams and counties who would love to lose as many All-Irelands as Mayo did’ because they can never get there.

“Is what they’ve achieved something to be dismissing them about, or is something we should be appreciating about them? I’d very much be in the appreciation camp. I think they’ve very talented footballers; they play a very open and expansive game – a game that is unpredictable in many ways and perhaps they are the most difficult teams to deal with.”

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