Monday 19 November 2018

'People are even talking about the five-in-a-row' - Mickey Harte relishing underdog tag ahead of All Ireland final

Tyrone players celebrate as referee Maurice Deegan blows the full time whistle in the 2008 All-Ireland final
Tyrone players celebrate as referee Maurice Deegan blows the full time whistle in the 2008 All-Ireland final
John Greene

John Greene

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is adamant his side can upset the odds in next Sunday's All-Ireland football final and deny Dublin an historic four-in-a-row, although he accepts his team is not being given much chance of success.

The reigning champions are as short as 1/7 to win their sixth title in eight years and so underpin their remarkable recent dominance of Gaelic football. In fact, they are even being quoted in some quarters as odds-on to complete a five-in-a-row next year.

But Harte, who has managed Tyrone to three All-Ireland titles, says he is well used to being the underdog, recalling in particular the memorable bouts with Kerry in 2005 and 2008.

"I don't think we were favourites in '05 against Kerry or favourites in '08," said Harte last week. "We were still the underdog, though maybe not by as wide a margin as perceived now. We're not in new territory — we are where we were in those years.

"The thing is that we aren't being given any hope this time. We would have been given a degree of hope in the previous years against Kerry, whereas we are not being given much chance this time at all in the eyes of many experts. But that should not deter us from believing that we can upset the odds, and we believe we can upset the odds. Otherwise this won't be a final that people will want to see."

Dublin inflicted a 12-point hammering on Tyrone in last year's semi-final and Harte said that the narrative around this year's final is that it "is done and dusted". He added: "People are even talking about the five-in-a-row."

Mickey Harte and Jim Gavin
Mickey Harte and Jim Gavin

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This is Tyrone's first appearance in the final since their last success 10 years ago, in which time they had lost four semi-finals before the one-point win over Monaghan earlier this month. "It just proves how difficult it is to get to the final and we really appreciate being in this one because we have been so close for a number of years and have not made it."

He added: "People for years talked about beaten semi-finalists being nowhere, they are forgotten about, they are not part of the big day, they miss out on all that preparation that goes into the biggest day of the football calendar, so it is always a huge disappointment when you get so close and don't make it."

Harte believes Tyrone have learned the lessons from last year's defeat to Jim Gavin's side but rejects suggestions it has forced him into a rethink on his side's brand of football. He said that his side under-performed on the day, while Dublin played extremely well.

"I felt that what we had done up to that time . . . it was the football that had served us well. We didn't produce that kind of football that day so we had to try and examine what happened that we didn't produce it.

"That's what we really had to reflect on. I don't think it's caused us to change a lot about how we play. That's the way we play, it's the way that best suits our players and that's what serves us best. It wasn't a question of throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

He accepts that overcoming Dublin will be a huge challenge, more even than plotting Kerry's downfall in two finals. With the exception of Mayo, no team has really put it up to Dublin since their last championship defeat by Donegal in the 2014 semi-final.

"It is a more demanding task alright because I would say that while Dublin play a really serious brand of offensive football, they also play a very serious brand of defensive football and sometimes people don't give due consideration to that because they see so much of them going forward that they kind of overlook the fact that they're a serious outfit to break down at the back as well," he said.

"They have been able to create that life view that they're all about attack but they are very much about defence as well and that's what makes them difficult. That's the big challenge which you have to really study and interpret — what they are doing very deeply."

Harte admires that Gavin has been able to keep the fire burning in his players, even after all the success they have enjoyed. He says the conveyor belt of talent Dublin is producing is the key to their success, because it stops players from resting on their laurels when they know there are hungry understudies desperate to take their place.

"That," he says, "drove players on who had their starting positions, therefore that's what's given them their longevity of staying at a high level of National League titles and All-Ireland titles. There seems to be no let-up in that. That's why they're so strong. But I think it's a credit to them that they've been able to maintain the standards they have set . . . They have the medals rattling about."

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