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Harte's final wee surprise

Having stepped down after 18 years with Tyrone, Mickey takes on Louth job

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Mickey Harte is the new Louth manager. Photo: Sportsfile

Mickey Harte is the new Louth manager. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Mickey Harte is the new Louth manager. Photo: Sportsfile

The last time a GAA managerial rebound romance of such significance developed at this speed, a county went on to win its first ever provincial title within 10 months.

There were many echoes of Páidí Ó Sé's venture into Westmeath when Louth made the shock announcement last night that Mickey Harte would take charge of their senior football team for the next three years.

Back in 2003, Ó Sé, like Harte, wanted a one-year extension to his time in charge after an All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Harte's Tyrone.

But it wasn't forthcoming, ending Páidí's seven-year management of county in somewhat acrimonious circumstances.

Within days though a delegation from Westmeath, led by Des Maguire, was headed south-west in an ambitious, and ultimately successful, move to bring him on board that resulted in their 2004 Leinster Championship win.

The timing here is about the same but the circumstances aren't altogether similar with Harte and Louth now. For a start, there wasn't much acrimony in the air when Harte confirmed his departure from Tyrone after 18 years there just 10 days ago. Quite the opposite in fact, there was understanding of the bind the members of the executive had found themselves if they were to unpick a decision taken by the county's convention three years earlier that all future appointments to county teams would be for three years.

Leinster football is, of course, in a much different place now than it was then, just a few days after Dublin reeled off a 15th title in 16 years with a record provincial final win over Meath.

When Ó Sé was appointed to Westmeath, the county had taken Meath, All-Ireland champions two years earlier, to an All-Ireland quarter-final replay in 2001 and went close to beating them again in the 2003 championship. The promise was there.

With Louth, there is no such obvious footprint. They climbed from Division Four to Division Two in successive years under Colin Kelly's stewardship in 2016 and 2017 but perhaps realising there wasn't much more he could get out of them at such an altitude, Kelly stepped away and they have been freefall since, landing back down in Division Four where Harte now finds them.

It's a good starting point. Louth will be more than capable of being promoted from a conventional Division Four next year with Antrim, Carlow, Wexford, Waterford, Sligo, Leitrim and London in opposition, though the format is likely to be regionalised when the competition structures are confirmed later this month.

And for any new manager, even one who has enjoyed as much success as the three-time All-Ireland winner, that's an attainable target to set in the first place. But it will be a different world from what he has stepped out from in recent weeks.

There'll even be a sideline battle with one of his former players and Errigal Ciaran clubmate Enda McGinley who, over the weekend, was confirmed as the new Antrim manager.

It speaks of the renewed ambition in Louth under the chairmanship of their former boss Peter Fitzpatrick that they have gone after such an appointment.

Just last September planning permission was granted for a new €12m 14,000 capacity stadium in Dundalk, bringing some certainty to a long-standing and troubling issue for the county.

As much experience and nous that Harte will bring, this is also a statement appointment from Louth, one designed to rekindle interest.

That Harte, and his sidekick in Tyrone for much of the last decade and the county's 2003 All-Ireland winning centre-back Gavin Devlin who is also on the ticket, will also take over the U-20 underlines a development element to their appointment too.

Louth have had an All-Ireland winning manager at the helm in the very recent past but Peter McGrath, who had guided Down to All-Ireland titles in 1991 and '94, lasted just one year (2018) before moving on.

Harte has been operating at a very high managerial level throughout his career and that will count for something when it comes to coaxing players to commit in a county like Louth where apathy can quickly set in.

The common consensus was that after managing Tyrone minor, U-21 and senior teams since 1993 without a break, Harte would avail of this opportunity to take one and weigh up other options that were sure to come his way.

Instead he has thrust himself quickly back into a role that will have its limitations but where relative successes can be enjoyed.


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