Sunday 25 August 2019

McMahon: Dead rubber could see Harte rested to avoid ban

Peter Harte. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter Harte. Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

As the archetypal Omagh man, it was with some irony where he found himself on the biggest day of championship football to ever land on the banks of the Strule river.

Joe McMahon perched his backside on a stool in the Heritage Bar in the heart of Yonkers, New York, to watch Tyrone do battle against Dublin in late July last summer.

The Super 8s system has taken some criticism before and since, but getting Dublin up to Omagh was presumably one of the prospects that had the architects salivating.

All the spicy chicken wings and cold Bud Lite in the world couldn't console him that, while he was out there on a coaching gig for the county board and living a charmed few weeks, he was missing out on a heady day for the parish.

Others filled him in.

"Being from Omagh you got a sense that the atmosphere that came to the club, to the town, the businesses, the boost that was given, they had never seen the like of it, from all communities," he recalls now.

"This mass of blue coming, spending their money in the town, bringing something to the Omagh businesses, a carnival atmosphere. It just gave a real boost to the town.

"The day that it was as well, it's not every day you have the All-Ireland champions coming to your back yard and how the game unfolded as well, the battle that Tyrone brought to Dublin. It was magical."

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Just over a year on and the Dubs are heading back up the Gortin Road. Only it's a game with a difference.

For the first time, Tyrone are playing a championship game with nothing - absolutely nothing - at stake, with both teams already qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals the week after.

"It's sort of hollow," says McMahon, and there's no counter-argument.

Matter of fact, it would appear the sensible thing to do is to 'throw' the game. The winners will top the Super 8s group and their semi-final is fixed for six days' time, whereas the losers will have one more night in their own bed, getting some of that precious recovery they value so much.

"The only thing would be that Tyrone beat Dublin earlier in the year," McMahon begins to reason.

"Maybe there is a psyche there, a positive thought that you are thinking, 'We have beaten these boys before' and if they beat them on Sunday, then further down the line you might meet them in the All-Ireland final knowing that you have their number.

Straws

"From that point of view, maybe there's something in that. It sounds like you are clutching at straws of course but I don't think the recovery thing is a huge element.

"Tyrone were on the road in the back door, away from home five weeks in a row."

Surely that's a period of heavy plundering to rival pre-season?

"I don't think that is anything major. It won't faze them. They are well conditioned," he says.

"Recovery-wise, they are in at their work the next day, but they are smart enough, clued-in enough that they look after themselves well."

And of course, you have the Banquo's ghost of this year's All-Ireland championship, the man who haunts Dublin's drive for five consecutive Sam Maguire titles - Diarmuid Connolly.

"The only thing you might see is other boys getting an opportunity against the top team in Ireland, maybe bring their game-time on a bit. It could be an opportunity for Dublin to possibly bring on Diarmuid Connolly.

"There is speculation that he might get a bit of game-time when there is nothing at stake," McMahon adds.

If that in itself is a fascination, the prospect of one of the finest-balanced footballers to grace the game finally getting back into sky blue, there are other matters to get your teeth into.

Such as Peter Harte. The Errigal Ciarán clubman was due to serve a one-game suspension against Roscommon for accruing three black cards in games against Donegal, Longford and Cavan.

Tyrone appealed and the one against Longford was rubbed out. But much to Tyrone's dissatisfaction, the others stood.

Against Dublin, Peter Harte is always picked up by John Small. On the balance of it, Small has enjoyed the better of these contests.

The Ballymun Kickhams powerhouse is physical and if they get into a wrestling match, there exists a real danger that Harte could see another black card which would automatically rule him out of next weekend's All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park.

"Petey is a huge player for Tyrone and he will be targeted, like many teams do target him," says McMahon.

"Discipline-wise, Mickey will have the boys well prepped and well tuned-in to all these possibilities. It's maybe an opportunity to rest him and give other players a chance. I don't know, I don't have the answer!"

As a man who won two All-Ireland titles under him, McMahon is a close-up witness to Mickey Harte's mentality in every situation but this.

"But Mickey never likes to lose a game and he might feel that he wants to play his best team and further refine what game-plan he has going this year," he says.

Smoke and mirrors in Omagh. You wouldn't miss it.

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