Mickey Harte adamant second tier doesn't reflect the Red Hand's real standard
Published 19/04/2016 | 02:30
Mickey Harte has always maintained that a Division 2 team can't win an All-Ireland title.
So does that preclude his Tyrone side, contesting Sunday's second tier decider against Cavan in Croke Park, from bridging an eight-year gap this September and returning a fourth title to the county?
"It all depends on how you interpret that I said. I said a Division 2 team won't win an All-Ireland. But you could have a team playing in Division 2 but not of Division Two standard," he pointed out.
Despite being relegated for the second time in six years, Harte never felt his team deserved the drop.
"I believe we were above the standard," he said. "Last year we played some of our best football. We lost to Cork by a point, a dubious point, drew with Kerry, we had Dublin beaten (but drew), we beat Mayo, we played bad against the Ulster teams.
"Our worst performance was against Donegal. But otherwise we played very well and were very competitive and I don't believe we are a Division 2 team."
Harte clearly believes that the distance between the top two, Dublin and Kerry, can be closed and his team can lead the chasing pack.
Three days after their four-point All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry, prior to the County Board even confirming his future, Harte convened his players to reaffirm that message.
"I put across to them the fact that we were in that game for so long. We squandered really good chances that could have put us in a very strong position. We squandered chances after the comeback and we should have been ahead before Kerry had their final purple patch," he recalled.
"From being four or five down, when we got level we missed two or three good scores, chances to go ahead. That ultimately made the difference.
"So what I was saying is that you can reflect on this game, analyse this game in many ways but that, to me, is how positively I'm looking at it.
"And Kerry being Kerry, even though they didn't win the final they are always someone to measure yourself against. Therefore, I believe we have the potential to be back in that zone again.
"We have to believe there is potential that there is a really good bunch of players there and they've got to believe they're that good. I think that run through the qualifiers last year began to sow the seeds in their head that 'yes, this is possible, we can play to a high level'.
"The runs in the qualifiers are all well and good but it's nice to have something tangible like a cup or a trophy. That's the evidence of your progression. You can progress so well so far, but what trophies did you win. So it's about time to get a few titles."
Harte accepts that he might just have his strongest squad assembled since the turn of the decade when Tyrone were last Ulster champions.
"Possibly it's heading that way, but that's to be confirmed yet. It looks like it has that potential to be as strong, but you have to go out and do that on important days.
"Until the season goes on a bit and we see these players who aren't in the first 15 coming in on any given day and establishing themselves and making a difference, then you could conclude that.
"It's a potential thing at the minute. You couldn't have put the reality stamp on that just yet."
Harte, who indicated that goalkeeper Niall Morgan could be "challenged" to be ready for the first round of the Ulster Championship against Derry because of a broken bone in his hand, admits he sees something of his old Tyrone team (2003 to 2005) in the way both Dublin and Kerry set themselves up these days.
"People do adapt to what they see as successful, and what players they have at their disposal," he said.
"And I think Dublin and Kerry are most adept at doing that, seeing what the modern game demands.
"We all try to learn from the past, not become clones, and I'm not saying they copied anything we did, but they've learnt from us and we learn a bit from then."