Thursday 14 December 2017

How Mickey Harte faced down his old-fashioned critics once again

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte after the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Tyrone and Donegal at St Tiernach's Park in Clones
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte after the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Tyrone and Donegal at St Tiernach's Park in Clones

Declan Bogue

ST Tiernach's Park in Clones can be an eerie place when the crowds leave, the buses are loaded and pull out, and all that is left are a number of journalists, clicking away on their laptops as the Angelus bells toll from the Sacred Heart Church.

Cross-checking match statistics, we could barely believe it. Tyrone hadn't picked up a single yellow or red card. They only conceded eight frees, some of which were technical fouls.

It certainly wasn't the game Colm O'Rourke thought he might see when he wrote on the morning of the game; "Tyrone have now moved on again and in the last year have produced a style of football which is ugly to watch and, worse still, not getting results. Even the natives - who are absolutely intolerant of criticism from the rest of the world - are getting more than a little restless…

"It must grate with the more talented footballers - and it shows little sign of lifting the gloom…

"It can't be very enjoyable for players to do it so in a sense I can admire the Tyrone team in their slavish discipline to a tactical mindset…" ah stop. Enough already.

Joe Brolly never misses a chance to twist some Tyrone tail either.

"They may be many things this Tyrone team. Footballing diazepam. Tick. Cynicism as an art form. Tick. Enraging. Tick."

He qualified that by adding, "But one thing they are not is lacking in courage. No. Tyrone men do not drop like flies. And today, they will not be doing so either."

And he signed off with "If Donegal commit to the attack, they will beat them. Because Tyrone won't".

Back at the start of April, Joe was saying it was time for a change in Tyrone management. Mickey Harte should go.

He also claimed, "I spoke to a couple of the Tyrone players privately a few weeks ago. One of their better players, one of their really, really good players, and you should hear what he’s saying in private about how depressing the training is and how they’re playing, and you can see that now."

Which was, A) quite incredible and, B) left there for the reader to make up their own mind. To these eyes, it looks way too personal against a manager who retains the capacity of surprising the football world. 

Last Sunday may have been the most fluid execution of his vision of Gaelic football.

Back in the late 2000s, Jarlath Burns wrote a column in Gaelic Life about an underage coach in his club, Silverbridge.

Michael McGeeney, who has now progressed through the ranks to be senior manager of the club would probably not like the word 'philosophy' attached to how he coaches teams, but he broke football coaching into two very simple terms; what you do with the ball, and what you do without.

Could there be anything simpler?

Looking at the game Tyrone played on Sunday, this side is based on those two fundamental pillars - what we do with the ball, and what we do without. Nowadays, the coaching buzz-phrase is 'transition'.

When Tyrone did not have the ball, two full-backs (Cathal McCarron, Ronan McNamee) mark their men. Another man-marker was detailed on Michael Murphy. Mark Bradley stayed close to goal, stretching Donegal and forcing them to keep two men back at all times, even more when you listened to Rory Gallagher roaring himself hoarse at his defenders to drop back in the opening quarter.

There are certain plays they produce with regularity. It's not all straightforward. But there is plenty for you to get your teeth into.

Ciaran Whelan for one, after a shaky start, has shown a ferocious appetite for analysis. His breakdown of where the kickouts in last year's Ulster final went compared to last Sunday's game was as impressive as it was illuminating.

I'm not sure the older crew of pundits want to do that.

For the most prominent judges of Gaelic football have been in their roles now for decades. Sunday after Sunday, all summer long, year after year, they have left the hearth for the Sunday Game studio lights. That's a lot of your free time taken up.

And that's along with the hassle of newspaper columns, and, hot diggity, these media outlets want their pound of flesh with these podcast thingies now, as well as any other promotional work that has to be carried out.

Could it be, that they are bored by the subject matter? That they could be doing something different with their day?

Punditry is not for everyone. Anthony Tohill walked away from a regular Sunday Game slot when he felt he was being coached into being more controversial, for the sake of ratings.

Others may feel fine with the trade-off.


Subscribe to The Throw-In,'s weekly Championship podcast, for the best in GAA discussion and analysis every Monday, with some of the biggest names in football and hurling from Joe Brolly, Tomás Ó'Sé, Brendan Cummins and John Mullane.

Subscribe and listen to The Throw-In podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud.

Irish Independent Sport Star Awards

Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport