Harte to stay on as Tyrone begin search for answers
Published 15/07/2014 | 02:30
Mickey Harte will continue for a 13th successive season as Tyrone manager next year, but as the county digests an unusually early exit from the All-Ireland championships there will be deep soul-searching regarding the overall state of play.
Tyrone have won only three games in Ulster over four seasons and while their long-time capacity to negotiate their way to Croke Park via the 'back door' served them well in 2011 and last year, they now find themselves dumped out of the championship in the second round of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
It's only the second time they have exited the qualifiers in Round 2 but unlike in 2006 when an injury-weakened team was beaten by Laois in Portlaoise, the latest defeat was in Omagh against an Armagh team that dropped into Division 3 last April.
Sean Cavanagh described last Sunday's setback as one of most disappointing of his long career and rued the absence of leaders among the team when the heavy pressure came on.
Cavanagh has been an unyielding warrior for the past 12 years but is clearly upset by the mentality of some younger colleagues who should be taking on more responsibility.
Harte's ability to run a squad with maximum efficiency has long been recognised, but the question which now arises concerns the talent at his disposal. With experienced players either retiring or losing altitude, Harte needed the younger generation to impose themselves.
But despite Tyrone winning seven Ulster and four All-Ireland minor championships since the turn of the millennium, the supply lines to the senior side have become increasingly erratic.
It's against that background that comments made by Tyrone coaching officer Brendan Harpur in his resignation letter two week ago raised questions about the manner that young talent is being nurtured.
Harpur expressed serious concern over what he believes is a disregard for the welfare of younger players in the county.
"We have a large dropout of players between minor and U-21, with a particular problem with elite minor players not making it through to U-21 or senior. Little wonder, when he have burned them out, or some have developed chronic injuries," he wrote.
Harpur believes that that the fixtures programme in Tyrone shows no consideration for younger players and, worse still, places them at risk of injury.
"The county gave their all in a championship game against Monaghan, yet within 24 hours they had to go out and play in senior league games (with their clubs). Do we seriously believe that you can expect these players to perform at their best or not to run the risk of injury without adequate rest?
"At the April county committee meeting, I highlighted a survey conducted with this year's championship panel, which showed the totally unacceptable demands we are making on our elite minor players."
The resignation of a senior officer, so closely aligned to the underage scene, points to serious dissatisfaction with the fixtures structure in Tyrone.
A decade ago, Tyrone was being held up a model of good business and with lots of young talent coming through, it was assumed that the transition from underage to senior would continue to be seamless.
It hasn't quite happened like that. Whether that's linked to burnout is a moot point but Harpur's blunt assessment may well resonate more prominently in light of this year's disappointing championship.
Meanwhile, Harte has another year to run in his latest agreement, which was announced in May 2012.
He will definitely complete this stint and recently gave a strong hint that he would actually like to continue beyond 2015.