Sunday 20 January 2019

Good - but Harte's men won't win all-Ireland

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte celebrates with his two-year-old grandson Michael Harte after the Ulster SFC quarter-final at Celtic Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte celebrates with his two-year-old grandson Michael Harte after the Ulster SFC quarter-final at Celtic Park. Pic: Sportsfile

We need to talk about Tyrone. The Championship is in the early stages and even though the real business wont kick in until the August bank holiday weekend, we will see how the main players are shaping up over the next few weeks.

The general consensus is that only Dublin, Kerry or Mayo can win this year's title but many think that Tyrone are the dark horses to gate crash the party. I am not convinced.

They are a young team with some talented experienced players and their graph has been rising over the last two years or so. There is no doubt that Mickey Harte is building another squad of players to compete with the big boys and they have passed all their tests this season.

A division two league title was the minimum requirement at the start of the year and that was won without too much trouble. There are very few teams who can win the All-Ireland and none of them are playing outside the top division so the step up in class will certainly help their development.

Yesterday, we got a first look at them in championship football and one would have to be impressed with how well they are organised and their ability to play their game while completely blotting out their opponents.

Derry are a poor team. They offered little or no resistance and that is very worrying for Derry football going forward. During my era, a Derry v Tyrone game was simply box office.

Those games were full of incident, a little over the top at times but always intriguing and full of quality. The games were hard-fought and hard-won but nowadays there is no competition. Derry football seems to have fallen off a cliff in the last decade or so.


It must be very difficult for all those great Derry players of the past who must be wondering how things have got to this. It is important now that they regroup and give the qualifiers a real go - otherwise the cycle of decline will continue over the comings years.

For Tyrone it's a totally different story as their underage structures seem to be in a good place and they continue to feed young players through the system and ultimately into the senior set-up.

Last year's Under 21 success was proof that all is well in the county and now they are firmly focussed on the Ulster championship.

With Derry dispatched without any issues, they now face the winners of the Cavan v Armagh game and that will be a different challenge to the one they didn't face yesterday.

They will plot their course with the intention of winning their provincial title and if that doesn't happen they are the type of team who will put defeat behind them and move on through the back door with the same attitude.

I think they will be there or there abouts at the business end and could have a huge say before it's all done and dusted. I don't, however, believe that they have the necessary quality to go all the way.

It would be hard to see them beating the current Dublin team, who are at the top of their game, but it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility if they were to end up in an All-Ireland final this year.

A lot would have to go their way but if the provinces are won by the teams we think they would face Mayo in an All-Ireland semi and this columnist wouldn't back against them winning that game.

Sean Cavanagh is still pulling the strings and looks as enthusiastic and energetic as he did ten years ago. He has been an outstanding player for Tyrone over the years and will be key to their chances again.

He will, of course, need others to step up but it is always a pleasure to see a great player still operating at a very high level, despite all his success.

So the question is - will we see Tyrone winning a fourth All-Ireland under Mickey Harte? I wouldn't rule it out but I think this group are probably another year or two away from seriously challenging Dublin and possibly Kerry and Mayo.

Weekly Whinge: The Championship has started and the club players must suffer with club championship matches now on hold and league matches being postponed.

It simply isn't good enough anymore. The early rounds of the county championships are merely box-ticking exercises, with no real bite or excitement. Change this system before we are all bored to death. Roll on August.

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