Sunday 17 December 2017

Alan Brogan: Mickey Harte's men the one team with artillery to trouble Dublin

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

There is a mystique about Tyrone and Mickey Harte that fascinates me. People can easily take for granted the length of service Mickey has given to Tyrone. Being an inter-county footballer is a huge, life-altering commitment, but being an inter-county manager at the level Tyrone have continuously operated at since Mickey took charge in 2003 is another step beyond that.

The manager is there for all the player gatherings, whether it's in the gym, at the field or in meetings. The time outside of these duties - with selectors, anyalysts, or liaisng with county boards - can nearly be doubled again.

It is this commitment and self-belief that forged the wonderful team of the noughties. Now, after a dip of a few years that commitment is beginning to forge a serious contender again, in my eyes probably the most serious contender to Dublin's crown.

Since 1995 Dublin and Tyrone have developed a rivalry that has sometimes tipped over the edge, like the infamous Battle of Omagh in 2006. More often than not, however, Dublin and Tyrone have produced magnificent footballing spectacles.

Let me start with the Tyrone team of the noughties. I suffered good and bad days against that team. We really developed a great rivalry and it took until 2010 for me personally and us as a team to get to grips with it.

In the All-Ireland final in 2005, I started really well. Gavin Devlin was taken off at half-time and Conor Gormley picked me up. I didn't touch the ball again that day and he completely snuffed me out in the replay too. From 2005, Conor was the bar that I measured my performances on. He was top-class, didn't look the quickest but he could move and had a great ability to read the game and get out in front of his man.

Mickey Harte thought so too because he always looked to Conor to put out any fires that were blazing close to the Tyrone goal. It wasn't until 2010 and 2011 that I managed to shake Conor off my coat-tail and deliver a performance when he was marking me. He didn't realise it but I learned a hell of a lot from those days he picked me up.

I never got to know many of the Tyrone lads I played against. Our relationship with them was probably fierce enough that there was no real interest in getting to know each other off the field. I suppose this is symbolic of the way they approached the game, they certainly had a siege mentality and to a man were ferocious competitors. I could always tell they hated losing. Whether it was Mickey Harte's doing or not, they kept the heads down when it came to the media and rarely let their guard down, or the public in to see what life inside the Tyrone camp was really like. Throughout the country I don't think we knew much of the personalities of Muggsy, Ricey and the likes.

Read more: Preparing to be serious challengers

I loved playing against that Tyrone team even though they inflicted a fair share of heartbreak, and those defeats ultimately made us stronger.

The way the current Tyrone team are approaching the game bears a striking resemblance to those teams I suffered against. Since 2012 Tyrone have had to rebuild after losing the majority of the team that won three All-Irelands but slowly and surely they have been building back to a level where they have become very dangerous opposition again.

Like before, we know very little about them personally; we don't even know what they sound like. It feels like it has all been carefully planned by Harte. A relatively low-key Division 2 title and a struggle with Cavan, who are improving but are not yet at Tyrone's level. Remember, Tyrone won All-Irelands in '05 and '08 via the back door. Tyrone's modus operandi has been to go about their business quietly and then unload on one of the championship favourites in Croke Park.

To me, they are the one team that have the artillery to really trouble Dublin in Croke Park. They are systematic, they have a game plan which involves Colm Cavanagh sitting back and directing an operation that has been practised a million times over. In Tiernan McCann and Peter Harte, they have half-backs who can break at speed and make the right decisions at the right time. In Mattie Donnelly, they have probably the best scoring midfielder in the country. In Ronan O'Neill and Conor McAliskey, they have forwards who will do damage to every team they play, particularly when they get back to the wide open spaces of Croke Park. And, lastly, in Seán Cavanagh, they have an inspirational leader who is nearing the last throw of the dice.

Over the last few years Mickey Harte has readied this squad to mount a serious assault at an All-Ireland title. They may not win Ulster, such is the treacherous nature of that championship, but they are better suited to the varied demands of Croke Park than either Monaghan or Donegal. They have the players and the gameplan in place to frustrate Dublin and hit them with a counter-attacking game. They have a few bridges to cross before they will get a crack at the Dubs but it's the game I want to see this summer, it's the game that will capture the imagination of the GAA public. They have returned slightly under the radar, but mark my words Tyrone are back and looming with intent.

Who knows, if Dublin and Tyrone will happen later in the summer, maybe I might meet with Conor Gormley, Muggsy or Ricey for a long overdue pint somewhere along Dorset Street beforehand and talk about old times. I'd like that.

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