GAA Football

Mickey Harte will be a man in demand: Ronan McNamee

Tyrone's Ronan McNamee felt sadness upon hearing of Mickey Harte's departure Picture by Philip Walsh.

TYRONE’S Allstar defender Ronan McNamee has described the overwhelming sense of sadness he felt when Mickey Harte confirmed on the team's WhatsApp group that he was stepping down as manager – but believes the Errigal Ciaran man won’t be short of offers to stay involved in the game.

After 18 years with the Tyrone senior footballers, where he won three All-Ireland titles, Harte decided to walk away following the county executive's refusal to meet his request of one final year in the role - a couple of weeks after their Ulster Championship loss to Donegal.

Even though there were mutterings of his mooted departure, only when it was made official on Friday night was the full impact of the news felt throughout the country.

“I just felt sad when Mickey put the message into the group,” said McNamee, who was handed his senior debut against Kerry in 2012.

“Obviously there was stuff going on in the background which we didn’t know anything about.”

Harte’s WhatsApp message to the players was relatively short but nonetheless heartfelt.

“He just explained in the message that he wouldn’t be there to take us next year and he wished us well. There were a few messages back into the group wishing him well.”

McNamee, who leaned on his manager for more than just football matters in recent years, said he would have had “no issues” had Harte stayed on for another year in a bid to win that elusive fourth All-Ireland.

Harte, who gave 30 years of unbroken service to Tyrone football, had asked to take the reins in 2021, not as an extension but as a “replacement year” given the seriously fragmented nature of 2020 due to the global pandemic.

“I would have had absolutely no issues with Mickey getting another year. But that's not up to me. That's up to the county board.”

Tyrone were arguably the better team against Donegal in Ballybofey on November 1 but a series of missed chances saw them exit at the first hurdle.

Despite conversations over Harte's future, McNamee never got the sense that Ballybofey was the manager’s swansong.

“We didn’t really know what Mickey was planning. He said over the weekend that it was going to be his last year but we didn’t know that. It definitely will be strange without him there.”

The Aghyaran clubman added: “There was no sense of anything after the Donegal match because half of the boys were up in the stand and the other half went for a shower and then we headed home in our own cars.

“You didn’t really see anybody after it. Normally everybody would be on the bus together, eating together, going out together. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, to be brutally honest. It’s just a strange environment to be playing in at the minute, so from that aspect, I didn’t know what Mickey was thinking.”

Having spoken to The Irish News on Friday afternoon to explain his reasons for stepping down and to reflect on the last 30 years of a quite remarkable managerial career, Harte made his first public appearance on Sunday as a guest on the BBC’s Championship programme of Cavan versus Down.

“You saw him on the BBC so he’s going to be a wanted man,” McNamee said.

“His son Mark recently took over Errigal [Ciaran] so he might get involved there. He’ll be busier than he’s ever been as he will always be in high demand because of the standards that he set. When you look at some of those in punditry and you look at Mickey there is nothing that he hasn’t done in the game. I just wish him well in whatever he decides to do in the future as I personally owe him a lot.”

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