Saturday 3 December 2016

Harte's enduring qualities take him into a 14th season

Published 28/01/2016 | 02:30

Harte remains in charge, driven by a relentless zeal to build a new empire similar to 2003-2008, when they won three All-Ireland titles: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Harte remains in charge, driven by a relentless zeal to build a new empire similar to 2003-2008, when they won three All-Ireland titles: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

There will be no fuss or fanfare in Omagh on Sunday but it will still represent a remarkable triumph for perseverance and resilience when Mickey Harte leads Tyrone into the Allianz League for a 14th season.

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He is some way behind Brian Cody in the longevity stakes, but he's closing in on Mick O'Dwyer's football record.

Micko presided over Kerry for 15 successive seasons (1975-'89) in a run that nobody thought would ever be replicated. However, Cody surpassed it in 2014 and continues to break new records, powered by Kilkenny's enduring reign on hurling's summit.

It's territory that Tyrone have not experienced since 2008, while their last Ulster title success came in 2010.

Despite that, Harte remains in charge, driven by a relentless zeal to build a new empire similar to 2003-2008, when they won three All-Ireland titles.

He has had his critics in recent years, including among some players who left the panel because they felt they weren't getting enough opportunities. It had little impact, however, because there was a suspicion among the public that aggrieved panellists might have an inflated view of their own talents. Besides, a player who walks out in mid-season could hardly be relied upon to deliver in the raging heat of a championship game.

Harte's ability to rebuild a season via the qualifiers has been so impressive that even those who believe a change of management would be good for the county can't argue against his achievements in taking Tyrone into Croke Park in August quite regularly.

They reached the 2013 and 2015 All-Ireland semi-finals, and while they lost to Mayo and Kerry respectively, they had made a case for being considered the best in Ulster in those years. They beat provincial champions Monaghan in both seasons, having earlier lost to Donegal, who have been a real bogey team for Tyrone.

So while Monaghan had the Anglo-Celt Cup in 2013 and 2015, Tyrone made more progress in the All-Ireland race, strengthening their case to be regarded as the best in Ulster.

Dropping into Division 2 last April was very disappointing for Tyrone but that, too, has to be put in context. Similar to Monaghan, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry, they lost three Division 1 games.

However, they were squeezed down the relegation chute after drawing three other games against Derry, Kerry and Dublin.

Over the last three seasons, Tyrone won more divisional games than Mayo or Kerry but now find themselves in Division 2. They were there in 2011 and 2012, before returning to the top tier, a target they are favourites to hit again this year.

After that, who knows where Harte's 14th campaign will take him and Tyrone?

Irish Independent

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