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Question is if Harte still has hunger for role


Mickey Harte has left Tyrone

Mickey Harte has left Tyrone

Mickey Harte has left Tyrone

The idea of someone other than Mickey Harte wearing the Tyrone 'bainisteoir' bib will seem almost preposterous, because this is how it has always been since his appointment as the county's senior football manager in November 2002.

But it has now moved one giant step closer to reality, once news broke last night that the Tyrone GAA executive has turned down Harte's request for a one-year extension.

Various county board officials could not be contacted for a comment yesterday, but the lack of an official confirmation doesn't negate the significance of this development.

In effect, for the first time in 18 years, Tyrone's history-making manager must apply for a position that is now vacant. But so too can others, and the name most frequently mentioned in speculation thus far has been Feargal Logan, who managed Tyrone to an All-Ireland U21 title in 2015.

Peter Canavan, another long touted as a successor, has already ruled himself out of the running so long as his son (Darragh) and son-in-law (Peter Harte) are involved.

It's true that Harte is the great survivor. It's equally true that a previous request for an extension, four years ago, was also rebuffed by the county board.

But there's one big difference between then and now: in 2016 he still had a year to run on his existing deal and was seeking to have this extended until the end of 2018.

Now, all the informed speculation is that Tyrone chiefs are seeking to invite potential candidates to apply for the role on a three-year term.

Does the veteran boss still have the hunger to make his case for continuity and see if any potential rival is willing to raise his head above the parapet? After all, you would be taking on a Red Hand demigod.

The counter-argument, though, is that Tyrone need a new voice and it's not even clear if Harte retains the same voracious appetite to carry on.

The Covid-delayed 2020 championship would prove the shortest of Harte's epic reign, for the obvious reason that there was no 'back door' escape route after they lost their Ulster quarter-final to Donegal last Sunday week.

Afterwards, the losing manager was asked the inevitable question about his future intentions. "I haven't considered anything about that right now," he replied.

Those journalists present in Ballybofey were struck by the equivocal answer. After all, previous championship exits were invariably greeted by bold declarations that he had no plans to go anywhere.

When Tyrone lost by four points to Kerry in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final, Harte stressed that "I really enjoy this particular role and feel privileged to be in that position".

Asked directly if he would be there in 2016, he replied: "I haven't said I am going anywhere … "

Two years later, Tyrone suffered another semi-final loss, this time to Dublin in a 12-point landslide.

"I do expect to be here," he said of his future. "It's not in my hands. Somebody else might choose to do something different. At this point in time, I've no intention of walking away."

Whether that remains the case, even more so given this week's development, must be open to debate if not considerable doubt.