Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 16 December 2017

Stepping down was never an option -- Mickey Harte

Mickey Harte at the launch of a 'Match for Michaela' – a game between Donegal and an Ulster selection on November 3
Mickey Harte at the launch of a 'Match for Michaela' – a game between Donegal and an Ulster selection on November 3
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Mickey Harte acknowledges that the tragic death of his daughter Michaela has had an impact on the Tyrone football team.

Speaking at the Dublin launch of the 'Match for Michaela' -- which will see All-Ireland champions Donegal play reigning inter-provincial champions Ulster in Casement Park on Saturday, November 3 to raise funds for the Michaela Harte Foundation -- Harte also insisted that he would never forward this as an excuse as to why Tyrone have slipped as a leading force.

Their championship exits to Dublin in 2011 and Kerry in July both came courtesy of heavy defeats, and Harte admitted that there have been consequences for the Tyrone team as a result of the tragedy.

He also revealed that he never once thought of stepping down as Tyrone manager in the wake of the traumatic events of early January 2011 or the subsequent trial last summer.

"It's hard to quantify these things. On reflection you might say all of these things take from your energy source to deliver you to where you want it to go," said Harte, who was present in Croke Park for the launch with his son-in-law John McAreavey.

"I wouldn't like to lean on it or use it but I do believe that not only has this had an impact on us as a family but for the GAA players of Tyrone that I work with.


"A lot of those people knew Michaela very well. You can never quantify how does it impact on them, just like we go back to the loss of Paul McGirr, the loss of Cormac McAnallen, it doesn't be over when it appears to be over.

"There are lingering consequences of having to make your way through those experiences.

"I have no doubt it had its impact, but I wouldn't want to use that as reason as to why we didn't perform to our best."

However, he said that the thought of stepping down to deal with things never entered his head.

"I'm grateful for the privilege of being able to stay (in football) because it is is a great distraction, a great diversion, a great way of looking at life. Life must go on. Yes things are different, it will never be the same.

"But there are people around us, there are opportunities around us, that will help us through."

The public support for Harte and his family is such that the Ulster Council -- the event's organisers -- expect in excess of 25,000 spectators in soon-to-be-refurbished Casement Park.

Harte believes Donegal are champions because their levels of commitment are way ahead of any other team.

"That's the key to all of this. Donegal themselves probably won't say they have any amount of better footballers than a number of other top teams," Harte said. "If you want to match them you have to match their level of commitment, and nobody has quite done that this year."

He does admit, however, to being surprised at their improvement over the last 12 months.

"I would like to put on record that I wasn't one of the critics of their semi-final defeat last year. I said they did what they had to do -- and they weren't alone in making that a very ultra-defensive game," he added.

"I am probably surprised that they made such strides in the next 12 months. I thought they were around the top table, but I thought it would take a bit more time for them to be as prolific in front of goal, based on the system they were playing last year. But they made that progress more quickly than I thought they would."

Harte, on the record as saying only teams in Division 1 of the National Football League can realistically win an All-Ireland title, is confident their return to the top flight will bring improvements for Tyrone.

"Division 2 can be very competitive and I think it was more competitive the year before last (2011). But it is a fact -- if you are not meeting the top teams in the spring then you are not getting the same preparation as the teams that are. I think that's undeniable now."

Harte is not aware of any pending retirements from his squad and expects injured trio Sean Cavanagh, Ronan O'Neill and Kyle Coney to be back in action in the new year after missing the 2012 championship.

He was part of a team of managers who met with the Football Development Committee recently to evaluate the game and he repeated his mantra of little change and more consistency in the rules.

"I certainly would not like to see a 'mark' or this tap-and-go business. I don't think there is any major changes required within the rules," he said.

"What we need is a consistent application of the rules that exist -- that to me is the big issue. I don't think we need to touch very much.

"A consistent interpretation of the rules as they exist still seems to be a real difficult issue for the people trying to do that."

- Joe Kernan will manage the Ulster team for the match. The Donegal county final is scheduled for the following day, but they are still expected to field their strongest available team.

Irish Independent

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