GAA Football

Tyrone's Mickey Harte will change his ways - but Arsenal's Wenger won't

Sean Cavanagh (right) has retired as a Tyrone player, but Mickey Harte (left) should remain as manager. Picture by Hugh Russell

AS a Manchester United fan Mickey Harte may not like the comparison, but I see many similarities between him and Arsene Wenger.

Both are managers I admire, educated, intelligent, thoughtful men. Prepared to engage with the media.

They also have a steely determination, and always fight their own corner.

Some may accuse them of never seeing any wrongdoing by their players but, like any sensible boss, they don't criticise their charges in public.

Both care about the man, not just the player.

Both enjoyed tremendous success in their first full senior season, repeated that triumph twice, but have not hit those heights in recent years, winning only lesser trophies.

Supporters might even suggest they don't spend enough: Wenger was famously frugal in the transfer market for years, while Harte doesn't indulge in expensive warm weather training camps abroad.

Both their teams were hammered by attacking sides on Sunday.

Yet there is one major difference between the two managers.

While the Arsenal boss seems stubbornly set in his ways, despite that being to the detriment of his team, Harte can change – and does.

Wenger used to change. His first great Arsenal side was big, strong, powerful. He altered his approach to include more skilful, smaller players, becoming much more of a ball-playing, possession-based team.

The problem is that he has stuck with that 'team of number 10s' ideal even though Arsenal have not won the English title since their 'Invincibles' did so in 2004.

As my dad would say, a blind man on a galloping horse could see that Arsenal need at least one dedicated defensive midfielder to protect their defence, probably two.

Instead, Wenger keeps picking, buying, and bringing through players who love to go forward, love to pick a pass. Since the days of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva he has had the likes of Mathieu Flamini and then Francis Coquelin to do the dirty work of tackling, covering, and snuffing out opposition attacks, but neither are truly established.

You get the feeling that Wenger tolerates such players, rather than makes them feel as if they're an integral part of his team, even if Coquelin did come on at half-time at Anfield on Sunday.

Mickey Harte doesn't have any purist 'hold your nose' attitude that denigrates defending.

Harte has cut his cloth according to the material available to him.

His Tyrone teams have always been hard-working but they were more attacking in the past because he had more great forwards, such as Peter Canavan, Stephen O'Neill, Owen Mulligan, and Brian McGuigan.

In recent years he has re-built his team to be extremely strong in defence and pacy on the counter-attack.

However, on Sunday Dublin showed that that particular approach won't be enough to win another All-Ireland, not while they're around anyway.

Prior to the semi-final Harte talked about this Tyrone team not having been "before Dublin", i.e. not having come up against them in Championship.

The question now is what Tyrone will look like 'after Dublin '.

The years AD can bring success for the Red Hands, but Mickey Harte knows that change must come, and come quickly, in order to achieve serious silverware.

Harte readily acknowledged that such change has gotta come, declaring afterwards that "we must go away and do what we need to do to make sure that we as a group can do something that will give us the capacity to close that gap."

Even before the semi-final he had said: "If I didn't evolve, didn't try to think outside the box, and think a little differently…we wouldn't be in this place right now. Yes, you have got to move with the times."

Tyrone have the consolation of being beaten by one of the great GAA teams. Arsenal lost out on the League title in 2016 to Leicester City. They fell out of their traditional top four slot last season.

Harte made a change even before half-time on Sunday against Dublin, with another substitution at half-time, two more before the 50th minute.

Yet it was too much to expect Tyrone to seriously trouble the greatest side of recent years with a system change in such a short space of time.

Part of the problem for Tyrone on Sunday is that they were far too modern-day Arsenal, far too nice, apart from an uncharacteristically dangerous high-footed lunge by Colm Cavanagh on Brian Fenton.

The Red Hands actually needed more cynicism, cuteness, game intelligence, call it what you will, to target the Dublin players who were on yellow cards.

In general, though, Dublin, despite their dominance, committed more fouls, collected more cards. Arguably that actually contributed to their dominance.

Few, apart from Colm Cavanagh, and spiky substitute Darren McCurry, showed Dublin sufficient disrespect, few displayed enough annoyance at being out-played.

Tyrone will have to shift the balance further towards attack, commit more men up the pitch, kick the ball to them more. No one runs as fast as a powerfully kicked ball travels.

Dublin's challengers need an injection of pace themselves, just as much as the ball. Sprint training has to be on the agenda.

They require shooting practice too: Dublin had just two wides, one of those a goal chance blazed off target by the speedy Jack McCaffrey. That was phenomenal, but Dublin's chance conversion rate is regularly very high.

Tyrone had 10 wides – eight of them very scoreable opportunities in my estimation.

It may seem like a good thing that the Tyrone number 14 jersey is up for grabs following the retirement from inter-county football of captain Sean Cavanagh – but it's not.

The Moy man has not been the force he once was – few sportspeople are at the age of 34 – but he truly continued to lead by example.

Big Sean had tremendous physical attributes and a huge amount of talent, but it was his attitude that elevated him to the top level.

Sean Cavanagh always gave his all on the pitch. He never shirked, he always kept going.

When team-mates see the top talents working harder than them, it's absolutely inspirational.

While Sean has gone, Mickey shouldn't. A change of approach is needed, not a change of manager. As for Arsenal, if Wenger won't change, he may find change comes to him.

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