Football

Sam Mulroy: Louth football must move on quickly from Mickey Harte exit

Louth's Sam Mulroy says the players felt a bit let down over Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin's departure but that he would never lose respect for both men
Louth's Sam Mulroy says the players felt a bit let down over Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin's departure but that he would never lose respect for both men

SAM Mulroy couldn’t disguise the feeling of the Louth players being “let down” or the sense of them being “left high and dry” by Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin’s shock exit from the county on Monday night to take the reins in Derry.

The Louth captain met with Harte and Devlin prior to the players being informed of their departure later on Monday evening and felt there was no point in trying to persuade them to stay as the move to Derry was already a “done deal”.

While expressing his disappointment at Harte and Devlin’s decision to leave Louth in such swift circumstances after three hugely successful years in charge, Mulroy said he would never lose respect for the Tyrone duo for the contribution they made to Louth football between November 2020 and September 2023.

“Mickey texted and I met him for a cup of tea and all the management team were there and they told us the craic,” Mulroy explained.

“It was a big shock and it’s massively disappointing. Peter Fitzpatrick (Louth chairman) asked us to get the players together that evening, so it was a shock, definitely.”

The Louth players fully expected Harte and Devlin to be at the helm in 2024 in a bid to push them into Division One football after winning consecutive promotions and being within one win of reaching the top flight last season.

Louth also reached their first Leinster final in 13 years – in 2023 – under the watchful eye of the Tyrone managerial duo.

“I suppose it’s raw for a couple of days,” Mulroy added.

“It’s tough to take when you’re on a journey with the boys and I think we all felt like that. We were all pushing in the one direction and sharing the goal of getting to the top table and the players maybe feel they’ve been left high and dry in a way.

“The two lads obviously have their reasons and I have to respect the decision that they’ve made. I’ve a lot of time for both men as Mickey gave me the biggest privilege of all of captaining my county and Gavin brought all of us to a new level on the training pitch.

“I’ve massive respect for them and I don’t think I’ll ever lose that, but there is disappointment and the players do feel a bit let down. We met after the Kerry game [in June] and everyone was ready to go again, so everything seemed to be in place and it was just a kick in the stones.”

With domestic abuse allegations hanging over Rory Gallagher, it was clear there was no way back to the Derry post for the Fermanagh man.

And with Derry’s interim boss Ciaran Meenagh bowing out a few weeks ago, the Oak Leaf county board wanted to find the best possible permanent replacement to try and squeeze an All-Ireland out of this current crop of Derry footballers who’ve reached the semi-final stages in 2022 and ’23.

Nobody imagined Harte and Devlin would be Derry’s go-to men, even though the latter had left a lasting impression at Newbridge, Bellaghy and Slaughtneil in recent years.

Despite the initial disappointment, Mulroy is convinced the Louth players will end up feeling galvanised by the opportunity that still exists in front of them.

“We need to get on with it and I don’t think the dynamic will change among the players,” said Mulroy, who at 25 is regarded as one of the top forwards in the country.

“They’re excited for the season ahead and we hope we can go to the next level.

“This group is so hungry for success and it’s at a really good age – average age is around 25 – it’s a young squad and coming into Louth now is a way more exciting proposition than it was, say, three years ago.

“We’re not sitting in Division Four anymore, we made our first Leinster final appearance in years and someone looking at it will be thinking that that is a nice position to be going into.

“I’ve been speaking to a few boys over the last few days now and they’re excited about what will come of this, so it’s getting over that shock and disappointment and turning it into a serious positive.

“It was a tough one to take at the time... “The first thought was: ‘Oh my God, this is the worst thing in the world’ and ‘Where do we go from here?’

“But this is a chance to impress a new manager and kick on again. From a personal point of view and speaking to the lads, I don’t think it’ll be too hard to find extra motivation to go back.

“When you look at it from a greater scheme of things, it could be a different story for the team, and I think the players are in a serious position to do something.”

Mulroy added: “It’s a bump on the road. The boys were going to leave at some stage, and that’s the way it goes. I’ve enjoyed my time massively under the two lads and the knowledge they’ve brought to us, the culture change in the county and wanting Louth to do well. But this is a bump in the road that we’ll definitely deal with.”

The progress made over the last three seasons means that the Louth county board can aim high for a successor to Harte and Devlin.

“I feel it’s more of an exciting prospect to manage Louth than it was a couple of years ago. We’re open to a top manager to come in and take us under his wing and bring us in the right direction. There are some excellent coaches and managers out there so hopefully the county board can get the job done and get us back on track.

“I would love to have Mickey and Gavin stay on and continue on the journey but it's one of those things. I wish them all the best and maybe we’ll meet them on the road some day.”

Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin have moved to Derry after three successful years in Louth
Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin have moved to Derry after three successful years in Louth