Monday 22 January 2018

Tyrone coming nicely to the boil again

After years of trial and error Harte has a 'potent mix'

Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee and Kerry’s Bryan Sheehan tussle off the ball during their Qualifier Round 3 duel in July 2012 in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney
Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee and Kerry’s Bryan Sheehan tussle off the ball during their Qualifier Round 3 duel in July 2012 in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

The devil is most definitely in the detail with this Tyrone team.

And partly, perhaps, because the focus - rightly or wrongly - comes so regularly on the devil within the team, the details get lost.

Maybe it's just that, having battled with big time irrelevance these past few seasons of not-very-plenty, we haven't had much reason or, indeed, scope to get our heads around Tyrone.

"I think there are a number of players who are in the squad who have really stepped up their game and have been working really hard for a few years," outlined Mickey Harte of the evolution of his team and being, as he is, the longest serving manager in inter-county Gaelic football, he was a wise man to ask.

The short hand is that the great, Kerry-terrorising team of the noughties has now almost totally passed and a new group has flowered in their patch.


In truth, the team that won three All-Irelands in 2003, '05 and '08 exited in drabs and Harte has been through and discarded a huge volume of players - some of them, like the 2008 All-Ireland minor winning star, Kyle Coney, hugely promising ones - and just now, has he found a mix spicey enough to survive at this exalted stage of the footballing summer.

Tyrone's most recent All-Ireland minor winning team is a case in point.

Of the 18 players that were used by manager Raymond Munroe in their victory over Mayo in 2010, none will start for Tyrone in Croke Park tomorrow. Only one - Ronan O'Neill - played a part against Monaghan and that was as 59th minute substitute for Conor McAliskey.

The team had talent aplenty but didn't quite sit squarely with the Mickey Harte style Tyrone senior team and the opposite is likely to be the case with this year's All-Ireland under-21 winners. Conor Meyler and Mark Bradley are already established in this team (Cathal McShane and Ciarán McLaughlin have significant senior experience too) and that figure will rise significantly over the coming seasons.

"I think those three years are vital," Harte said about the vagaries of expectation between good minor and under-21 teams.

"And I think it has been critical to this year's success that the under-21s were successful at All-Ireland level.


"Now you have players coming who have won an All-Ireland, not only have you got the satisfaction of that but the confidence that comes with that has been very evident in the players that have come in," added Harte.

"I think it brings a new lease of energy, a new lease of life to the players that have been there for a few years longer. That's always a potent mix I feel."

Some, like Ronan McNamee, have found themselves more useful in a deeper role and that, largely, has been a trial-and-error routine for Harte.

McNamee lined out against Monaghan in their All-Ireland quarter-final at right corner-back, yet his brilliant length-of-the-pitch point that day just highlighted the cunning with which Harte locates his paciest ball-carrier, largely in areas where they can take possession unhindered.

"People say that if you haven't a settled team you don't know what you are doing or what your best team is," Harte points out.

"Then, another way of looking at it is that if you have this settled team, you don't know what you have to come in.

"But, again, like all of these things, you're as good as your next game," Harte adds, "and we haven't played it yet."

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