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Harte: O'Neill in the wrong

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Tyrone's Peter Harte in action against Down. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Tyrone's Peter Harte in action against Down. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Tyrone's Peter Harte in action against Down. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

PRESUMABLY, it’s far easier to saddle up to a public tête-à-tête with the GAA President after winning than losing but you’d imagine Mickey Harte wouldn’t have shirked it had Saturday night’s trip to Páirc Esler been less straight-forward either.

A 3-11 to 0-12 win was probably just about the extent of Tyrone’s superior craft and efficiency.

Yet when quizzed over Liam O’Neill’s accusations of inherent negativity afterwards, Harte chose moderation as his weapon.

“It probably wasn’t the right thing for him to say,” was the full measure of Harte’s riposte. “From where I’m looking at it, I think he could have said different things. To personalise something like that, I don’t think it’s the right thing for the president to do but he did it and he said it, and he’s the one you need to ask about whether it was the right thing to do or not.”

Still, Harte himself then brought up the ever-prickly thorn of club access to county players during summer, pointing out that he would now face into a period of bustling local activity ahead of an Ulster SFC quarter-final with champions, Monaghan.

“I wasn’t even asked for my opinion whether I liked that or not so there you go,” he explained. “Sometimes it’s aired that managers are all powerful, that they’re dictators and all the rest of it. I wasn’t even asked in these recent days did I like it or not.”

For the record, he doesn’t. Not one bit. And neither, the Tyrone manager suggested, do some of his players.

“A lot of the county players are unhappy about the fact that they have to be play championship football now,” he revealed.

“That’s the way it is - I’m not going to change that now. I’m just making my point and I hope it doesn’t sound negative,” Harte added with a smirk.

JOUSTING

He had, verbal jousting aside, plenty of good reasons to smirk. His team had just conquered Newry, plundering three goals which, whilst fortuitous in timing and in one case, adjudication, they ultimately deserved.

The only aggrievance from a Down perspective were the respective penalties. In the very first minute, Aidan Carr drove his squarely at the indomitable Niall Morgan, a spurned fillip they greatly greatly needed.

Then, while trailing by five but within a definite spell of superiority in the second-half after Benny Coulter’s introduction, Cormac Reilly awarded Tyrone a penalty for an apparently push by Kevin McKiernan on Ronan McNabb.

“Again it’s harsh,” reflected James McCartan who cut a pretty animated figure on his home sideline all evening.

“We were far away and my eyesight’s failing me in my elder years but the guys think it was harsh, they were disappointed. I can’t confirm or deny it from where I was standing. In fairness no Tyrone player looked for a penalty, there was no player squealing penalty!’ which you’d have thought…”

Asked afterwards for his take on the incident, McKiernan declined, intimating he feared saying something he might later regret.

Still, despite Down defending with all their might over two games against Tyrone, they conceded a total of five goals and that, more anything else, was their undoing.

On Saturday night, they couldn’t quite figure out how to stop Ciarán McGinley finding space (and vitally, scoring two goals) or which was the best method of preventing Peter Harte cutting through from deep.

Seán Cavanagh had his moments, too, but the night was Matty Donnelly’s.

The latter’s best positioning has been the cause of much wonderment in Tyrone but playmaking from centre-back seems now to be most suited to his expansive range of talents.

And like Peter Harte, he is all the more difficult to nullify when he does such impressive creative work from his own half.

Ditto Morgan, whose kick-outs were straight from the Stephen Cluxton playbook of creativity and excellence.

“I’d say Down were very happy to get us back here because they know what they did to us here the last time they took us back,” pointed out Harte of the 2008 replayed Ulster quarter-final between the same tames.

“They had every right to believe they could turn this game around and they gave those positive vibes all week that they could do that.”

Vibes which might now be a little short in supply.

“You guys can make up your own opinion but I thought the score-board was a bit cruel to us in the end,” reckoned McCartan afterwards but while he was correct is his assertion that his players had worked as hard as their opponents, they played with notably less class.

And given the way this year’s qualifier draw works, Down and Tyrone could well meet again as soon as the next round if Harte’s Ulster ambitions go astray against Monaghan.

Would they fancy another tilt?

“Yeah,” nodded McCartan. “I’d like another crack at them in the All-Ireland final…”


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