HISTORICAL perspective may provide an alternative angle – but Tyrone star Peter Harte regards Dublin “from our point of view” as “the best team ever.”
The Red Hands have to defeat the four-in-row-chasing Dubs in Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC Final, something no side has done in the Championship in 27 matches.
Some have suggested that Tyrone have no mission against Jim Gavin’s Allstar-studded side, but Harte agreed with a laugh that they’ll probably turn up anyway:
“I think so – there's a bus booked so we may as well come down for the weekend!”
The challenge Tyrone face provokes a much more serious response: “They’re probably the best team ever … maybe you’ve a better understanding of what that looks like in the grander scale of things but, from our point of view, they’re the best team ever. And that’s your target – to beat that team.
“So, we’re under no illusions that it’s the biggest task in football. It's the biggest task probably a Tyrone team has ever faced.”
The 27-year-old acknowledges that the overcoming the Dubs may seem especially difficult for this Tyrone team after losing to them by 12 points in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final:
“Part of it is daunting because you know every mistake you make is going to be exploited probably to the maximum. But it’s a great challenge, it’s a challenge that we’ve wanted.
“And from last year, from the semi-final, we’ve all wanted to get back there. Not to right the wrongs but just to put in a better performance and to maybe show that we didn’t feel there was that big a gap last year, but that’s just the way it turned out.”
Dublin’s ability to play ‘keep ball’ has probably increased this season and Harte admits it’s tough when you can't get possession back off them:
“It's frustrating and it's energy-sapping and it's all the things you'd imagine it to be.
“There's not a pile you can do except be brave and go man to man and push up - but in a way that's exactly what they want you to do because they feel they can hurt you on the back foot, so it's a ‘Catch-22’. They are the best team at exploiting it.”
Tyrone were criticised for not putting in enough tackles on the Dubs last year, and Harte knows this time must be different:
“Probably part of it was our problem for not being at the right intensity level and maybe the fact we'd won a few games a bit easier in the lead-up to the game we kind of thought maybe we were better than we were or things were going to go the way they had been going in other games.
“And then you hit that shock and that intensity and the noise of the Dublin support, and it all just changed for us. But we've had that experience now and maybe we can do something to right the wrong of it, or get on the road to it anyway.”
Harte himself is likely to have John Small dogging him everywhere he goes, as was the case in Croke Park last year and again in Omagh last month, but he’s prepared for that prospect:
“Aye, just looking forward to another battle. Hopefully we can get on the front foot and put him on the back foot more. He's been marking the best players these last few years for Dublin, and he’s excellent at it, as you all know – he's strong and fast.
“I just have to concentrate on my game and do the best I can to help the team out; hopefully everyone else will do that as well and if enough boys are doing that, you leave yourself with a chance.”
The Errigal Ciaran clubman was adamant that the Red Hands aren’t just hoping that their ‘luck’ will change, that Dublin can’t keep beating them, just as Monaghan lost out in the All-Ireland semi-final after defeating Tyrone twice earlier this year:
“Ah, no, if you’re going in with that attitude, that we deserve to beat Dublin because we’ve played them so many times … no.
“For us, it’s just about the 70 minutes or the 80 minutes, whatever it is on the day. You have to play for all 80 against the Dubs, and if you don’t they beat you.
“So that is what we’re preparing for, just to get ourselves physically and mentally ready to go at it, and really go at it for the whole game”.