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'This is for the people of Tyrone' - Patient Mickey Harte's prayers answered as the Farney mumble Hail Marys


Tyrone manager Mickey Harte celebrates at the final whistle. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte celebrates at the final whistle. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte celebrates at the final whistle. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Mickey Harte steps from the claustrophobic field with a smile that can't obscure the fire in those wise eyes.

Few men understand the transience of these days better and so, if the rest of the world imagines Tyrone as just having won the right to be a human backdrop for Dublin's next dance with the deities, Harte is happy for that drum roll to build. He loves this place in September.

He has good reason.

If the Dubs see no danger here, he's not about to play PT Barnum in contradiction. The temptation, he knows, will be to see this Ulster dogfight as a resolutely narrow, parochial matter settled by inches. What will it represent when winter rolls in? Maybe we just miss the point.

Because Harte expresses a hope that "the colour will burst out in Tyrone" now, touching on the silent ache they've been carrying with them through recent seasons.

"We felt as a group we needed to be in this final," he says. "It just is like this day that we've been waiting on for a long time and working towards... and we've had to be very patient for the last number of years. We were knocking on the door, getting to decent places, but we never could get to the final.

"If you have been in four semi-finals and go home with nothing to do for the next month only watch other teams go for it, there is an awful sense of anti-climax. We know the people of Tyrone. They love their football and love to get energised by it. And we felt for the last number of years that we kind of let them down somehow.

"They just wanted to express themselves in terms of being here on All-Ireland final day. Maybe we got a wee bit spoilt with three in five years in the Noughties. There is still a longing in the people of Tyrone to be here in All-Ireland final day. And we always felt we were playing for them. That's what we do it for.

"The players don't do it for themselves. They do it for those good people who travel miles and miles to support us; people who have family issues where football brings them some consolation. So it's not just about Gaelic games or it's not just about playing football. It is about the well-being of the people of your county."

There's a defiance written into the nervous system of his team that Monaghan just couldn't quite subdue here.

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It took Malachy O'Rourke's team more than an hour to lead for the first time and Tyrone's response was as vicious as a snake's strike. Niall Sludden's 64th-minute Canal-end goal retilted the momentum just when it seemed that Tyrone might be running out of energy and ideas, that they were just throwing edgy patterns that had no end, no target.

They are a side that regard the foot pass as some kind of subversive act, ferrying the ball forward in army-like phalanxes, inviting physical contact, manipulating the opposition's structure. That's how the goal came, with Peter Harte and Tiernan McCann running down a corridor that was always going to hurt.

And, when it came to it, Monaghan couldn't quite find the composure to stop that happening.

Their marquee men, Rory Beggan and Conor McManus, both ended up firing shots towards the Hill that amounted to just mumbled Hail Marys. And the best teams just don't do that. They don't roll dice.

Still, Harte recognises that the next three weeks will be plump with questions about how Tyrone now hope to cross that great canyon that separated them from Dublin a year ago. He won't answer with any reckless promises.

"Getting to a final is one thing," he says flatly. "But there's something to be won in the final and we have really got to knuckle down now and do our very best to make a game of this final. The public need it and Tyrone people need it. They need us to make a real fight of this final.

"We haven't great memories of our semi-final last year. So we need to be really, really so much better than that.

"If you're in a very good game, who knows what can happen?"

Tyrone lost that semi-final by 12 points. In the more recent 'Super 8s' game at Omagh, the margin was just a goal. Harte is disinclined from reading too much into either.

"I don't think we can," he stresses. "Like we didn't read exactly a 12-point defeat into that match last year. A lot of people did and a lot of people reminded us of it for the last 12 months. But we didn't feel that we were 12 points a worse team than Dublin, even with that result.

"And now we don't feel that we're necessarily just three points worse than Dublin because of what happened in Omagh. Different days, different scripts, different everything. This is a new game in a new situation where Dublin are so comfortable because they've been there so often recently. So it's a whole different complexion of a day."

Last night most bookies had them in the region of 5/1 to claim Sam Maguire on September 2. The equivalent of declaring a two-horse race essentially settled in advance. So, any pressure? He smiles.

"The players put the pressure on themselves," shrugs Harte.

"The pressure from outside is what it may be. But the pressure that's on these players is they want to be the best, they want to be in the best games of the year. And the All-Ireland final is the best place to be.

"I don't think it's a pressure that's going to be difficult for them. It'll be one they'll look forward to.

"It's such a privilege and such a gift to be in an All-Ireland final. And maybe when we look back to the Noughties, we didn't fully appreciate that we got three in five years and were successful in them.

"When you're in the middle of that, maybe you don't appreciate just how difficult it is to get back there. But now we know.

"We know what 10 years of trying is like. And we're so happy to be there. But we want to make sure that we give of our best when we are there.

"There is pressure to that extent. We need to perform."

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