Friday 16 November 2018

Harte hopes Tyrone benefit from O'Neill's forward thinking

Stephen O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

The addition of 2005 Footballer of Year Stephen O'Neill to Tyrone's coaching ticket can add an 'instinctiveness' that may be lacking in the Red Hand attack, as they set out to halt Dublin's bid for four All-Ireland titles in-a-row in 2018, says Mickey Harte.

Tyrone's narrow win over St Mary's College on Sunday leaves them in pole position to qualify for the semi-finals and providing they don't ship a heavy defeat to struggling Cavan - who suffered a shock loss to Antrim - they will go through to the semi-finals.

With Tyrone struggling to muster up scores in their last two All-Ireland exits, at the hands of Dublin last year and Mayo in 2016, the introduction of O'Neill is significant and Harte made no attempt to play down his pleasure at having one of his best on-field servants alongside him on the sideline.

"Ah sure Stevie is no stranger to Tyrone football obviously and has been there for many, many years.

"I have worked with him since he was 17, so we all know him well.

"Gavin (Devlin, assistant manager) knows him well and he brings something different to us," said Harte.

"It's another pair of very seasoned eyes on all that is going on and we would know that he was an instinctive forward, can do things that very few others can do.

"If he can coach a bit of that into some of our forwards that would be very helpful."

In Harte's first few years he was blessed with a number of forwards that could be described as 'once-in-a-lifetime' talents such as Peter Canavan, Brian McGuigan, Owen Mulligan and O'Neill.

The depth of talent was such that O'Neill didn't even make the starting line-up of the 2003 All-Ireland final, coming on as a sub for McGuigan and scoring two vital points against Armagh.

Although O'Neill's coaching experience is limited, Harte believes he can pass on some of his wisdom to coax more out of the forward line.

"I think other players can get insights into why he was as effective as he was as a player on the field," he explained.

"When he can coach them on things, on ways of things that they mightn't have thought about before.

"It's coming from somebody that has been there before and done it so I think they would listen to it."

However, the game that O'Neill started out playing has become very fluid and Harte stated that his remit wouldn't just be to work with forwards but with all the players for whenever they find themselves attacking the opposition.

"It's not about the days of backs and forwards. That's gone, we know that. The days of a positional sense as it is written on a match programme is gone.

"So it is about 'football'; every player needs to be able to think like an attacker and to work like a defender. That's the way the game is going," he added.

Having O'Neill at training has already paid dividends for Tyrone's Niall Sludden, an All-Star nominee in 2017.

"As a young player, I always looked up to Stevie. Since he has come in, I have seen a big impact," the Dromore man stated.

"It's definitely not going to happen straight away.

"That just doesn't happen overnight, but I've really enjoyed having him in, a player of that calibre. It's really exciting.

"In terms of analysis, you just know that he has been watching the game a lot since he has been out, he's been studying it.

"He's very vocal, and he's very helpful around both forwards and defenders, trying to bring our game to a new level."

New captain Matthew Donnelly has already spelled out how O'Neill can make the difference and address the 12-point gap to Dublin last August.

"He's doing a lot of good work with the team, but that's going to take time and that's going to take games and patience from all involved before you see that come to fruition," the Trillick man said.

"Obviously that final third, which is extremely decisive in a big game, is something where we have a lot of scope to improve on too.

"But I would be happy that we have all the answers there in the set-up at the minute to be able to address that."

Sludden said the emphasis has been on putting last year behind them and looking forward to this season.

"That was 2017, we're in 2018 now, so it's a fresh start and we're just looking forward to the next couple of McKenna Cup games, and obviously our first game in the league, Galway away."

Irish Independent

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