Sunday 25 February 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: It's absurd that the only Tyrone manager to win an All-Ireland has been left swinging in the wind

Refusal to give him the extra year he wanted flies in face of where he is bringing this team

‘I find it absurd that a man like him, the only manager to deliver All-Ireland senior titles in Tyrone’s history, has been left swinging in the wind Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
‘I find it absurd that a man like him, the only manager to deliver All-Ireland senior titles in Tyrone’s history, has been left swinging in the wind Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

The GAA's global reach continues to extend and the roots being put down in other parts of the world get deeper by the year.

In Rockland County, on the west side of the Hudson River outside New York City, there is one of the finest examples of a thriving GAA community abroad and the people involved who are committed to an extensive overhaul of their facilities got their reward last weekend when it was officially opened with a gala celebration.

Over the weekend there was music, dancing, games, skills competitions, a poc fada and even an All-Star match where grizzled old veterans like myself rolled back the clock and too often allowed the brain to dictate what the body should do.

The format loosely saw combined provincial teams from Leinster/Ulster and Munster/Connacht play each other and that saw myself and some of my old Kerry comrades, Paul Galvin, Dara ó Cinnéide and William Kirby on a collision course with some of old adversaries from Tyrone, Peter Canavan, Brian Dooher, Brian McGuigan and Mugsy, fresh from a championship campaign with London that he could never have expected.

Suffice to say the atmosphere was a lot less sulphurous than it was at the height of our rivalry.

The more I meet them, the more I wonder in Kerry why we ever got so worked about who they were and what they were bringing.

Time passes, those players have long moved on to be replaced by a young and eager bunch who have maybe taken a little more time to settle than their predecessors but are clearly getting there now on the evidence of the last two championship campaigns.

The constant in it all remains Mickey Harte, still nurturing, still propagating, still adjusting his feet as the sands beneath them shift.

Another set of back-to-back Ulster titles for Mickey is in the pipeline tomorrow, quite an achievement in the context of the provincial warfare that exists up there.

Yet the great man is, in a way, singing for his supper, unsure as to whether the powers-that-be in Tyrone will want him in 2018.

Last year, when Mickey went to trade in his Ulster title (and three other titles scooped on the way) for the security of an extra year in charge, he was told 'no thanks'.

A year earlier Tyrone recovered from an Ulster defeat to reach an All-Ireland semi-final which they lost to Kerry but the endorsement for that measure of progress was slow to materialise. He got a two-year term which ends when this season ends.

If an Ulster title wasn't sufficient credit to earn an extra term just under 12 months ago, then a second one to add to it this weekend is clearly of little value to those tasked with making these decisions in the county.

Quite frankly, I find it absurd that a man like him, the only manager to deliver All-Ireland senior titles in their history, has been left swinging in the wind like it. Only last May Dublin GAA were happy to announce that Jim Gavin would be extending his term, which was due to end this year, by a further two years, taking him up to 2019.

Gavin doesn't require security after stockpiling so much silverware but still, it was a nod to the future that has been reflected in some of his team selections since.

Harte's recent record doesn't bear comparison to Gavin's obviously but then Tyrone have Ulster to negotiate each year and that's a world of a difference from what's at play along the east coast.

It seems to me that Mickey's future is wrapped up somewhere in what happens in August and maybe even September, high standards in the current climate even for a man with his record. His margins for error would appear to be ridiculously small.

If I were the Tyrone officials, some of whom are clearly thinking change might be preferable and may have issues with the continued refusal to engage with RTé, I'd be careful of what I'd wish for.

Great managers are hard to come by. I mentioned last week that too often the wrong decision and the consequences of it can last for years.

For me, I don't know is there an individual in Gaelic football that commands more respect than him, from the way he carries himself to how he treats others.

In our part of west Kerry we'll always remember his visit and his solemn words when Páidí passed away. His presence in our time of need, I know, gave strength.

He's had to draw from his own personal grief of course but to have the strength and faith to deal with that as he did and still oversee the running of a top-class football team provides an insight into the steel that's in the man. So many see a contradiction between the man and some of the hard-edged, antagonistic players that served him but that's all wrapped up in the game. I could never imagine him fuelling any of that.

I said before that I'd love to have played under him. I love that calmness on the sideline, that passive demeanour, concentration, deep in thought. Bizarrely, some see that as a lack of engagement, that he's not 'involved' enough and that he should be much more vocal.

But look around. Gavin or Fitzmaurice don't feel the need to do drama either.

He's a traditionalist in many ways but he remains very modern in his thinking. How else could he continue to deliver Ulster titles almost a decade-and-a-half on without moving with the times?

I know the generation gap is much greater than it ever was, that young fellas speak a different language and have lower tolerance levels for anything they feel falls short of the standards they expect. But Mickey clearly finds he can tap into them easily and that's more than half the battle in his position.

I look at a player like Tiernan McCann and see huge improvements in his game since his switch to half-back. Once a rabbit in the headlights he is more measured in the direction he runs now. He plays with his head up.

McCann won't have forgotten how steadfastly Mickey stood behind him when the world threatened to cave in on him two years ago.

All Harte-coached teams carry the same traits: defensively strong, hard-working, possession football.

When they announced themselves in 2003 that's the one thing that stood to me, how hard they worked. In that regard, they took the game to a new level.

In the last two games, especially their Ulster semi-final, they've let the handbrake off a little more and with more composure they might have had four or five goals. That's not the sign of a team too caught up in a defensive mindset.

For me it was one of the finest performances from one of his Tyrone teams, certainly the best since the 2008 All-Ireland final against Kerry, a day I would have no qualms about. And they did it all with scarcely a card of any hue being brandished. By my reckoning it takes them to the coat-tails of Kerry and even within striking distance of Dublin.

Tomorrow they should have too much artillery for a Down team that is loaded with so much pace but is never likely to have enough possession to make it count. From his original team, only Seán Cavanagh remains and Seán has committed to dropping the anchor on his wonderful career when the season ends. That will then just leave Mickey provided he can keep his balance on the high wire that has been laid out for him.

He should be cherished while he's there.

Irish Independent

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