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Tyrone Manager Mickey Harte

Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte, one of the best in the business

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Tyrone Manager Mickey Harte

He holds three senior All-Ireland titles as a manager -- 2003, ‘05, and ’08, and two under 21 titles in 2000 and ’01.

Add in a minor title in 1998, a National League, two All Ireland Vocational Schools, a host of Ulster Championships at all ages with a plethora of club honors. It is a partial list of the resume that is Mickey Harte’s.

A motivator, an innovator, a tactical wizard and to boot a former Tyrone minor, under-21 and senior player himself, that is Mickey Harte.

In New York this past week as part of a Maynooth College expo, the living legend took time out from his busy schedule to sit down with the Irish Voice to discuss his team, his future, his favorite players and other aspects of his legendary career.

Harte was raised in the townland of Ballymcilroy near Ballycawley and played his club football for the parish. Two of his six brothers played senior football for Tyrone before him. and his roots are steeped deep in the GAA.  

After graduating from college (he had a chance to come to New York with his friend Colm McEler one summer in the early 1970s but didn’t) he returned to the parish and managed the club as well as playing for the side.

After a major disagreement when the parish was split in two, his career as a county footballer ended while his club Glencull sat in limbo waiting to be allowed to play as a club in the Tyrone championship.

After the arrival of Father Sean Hegerty to the parish, the former Armagh manager, a truce was formed and hence the arrival of the amalgamated Errigal Ciaran football club to senior football.

It didn’t take them long to put their mark on Ulster football now that the full strength of the parish was behind it. The first year 1990, the under-16 side manager Harte took home the county title, while three years into their new existence the seniors, with Peter Canavan the star, were victorious. They went on to lose to Nemo Rangers in extra time in an All-Ireland semifinal and a formidable force in Ulster club football was born.

With his playing career over Harte the manager came to light, and he was tapped as the Tyrone Minor custodian. He led the team to the 1998 All-Ireland title, but his career with the county was already hit with sadness when Paul McGirr, a player on the 1997 team, passed away on a Sunday evening in June after he was hurt in an accident with the Armagh goalkeeper in a championship encounter.

Titles arrived with the under-21s and a host of superb players came through the ranks with him, including Cormac McAnallen who died tragically before he was 24.

The Tyrone senior side of the last decade has changed the way the game is played and the style in which they played has opened up new avenues for football.

“When I started the game was all about big men and strength of players had a huge part to play. I looked at it with an open mind,” Harte said.

“I always felt a team should play to its strengths. Use your pace, hold the ball and use the possession. When you had the ball you could create and were not battling 50-50,” Harte said.

His teams played to this idea and they created a whole new buzz around football. “The Dublin team of the 1970s was one that I watched closely. Bobby Doyle was not a typical corner forward, and he was involved in all the game,” said Harte.

“Tony Hanahoe was all over the field from number 11. He opened up the game.”

If Dublin changed football then certainly Tyrone of the new millennium followed it.

As the 2000s arrived Armagh and Tyrone put Ulster football firmly back on the map. When asked if Armagh manager Joe Kernan and Harte would be linked for the changes that they helped to bring to football, Harte agreed.

“Tyrone and Armagh were very different in styles. We played to our strengths; ours was the mobility and youth of our side while Armagh had strength and was a mature team. The fact that we arrived in the same period will link us surely.”

In the championship encounters between the sides Tyrone hold a 3-1-1 advantage, with the most important wins in the 2003 All-Ireland final and the ‘05 semifinal.

Players who have stood out over all the successful years are many, but Harte was forceful in saying, “I don’t like singling out players. A huge bunch have helped on the way. Cormac McAnallen, Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan all were amazing with Dooher a terrific worker.

“The best player I ever saw, however, was Frank McGuigan. He had it all, unbelievable.”

Big Frank was of course a member of the New York team that won the Gael Linn championship back in the early 1980s in the mist of his club career in New York before going back home and helping Tyrone to the 1986 All-Ireland final.

Looking to the future, Harte has another year to go on his current assignment with Tyrone but there will definitely be more years ahead.

“We have to go back to work after the loss to Cork this year. We will have too do better to get a different result next time we meet a challenge like that,” Harte says.

“There are several minors in Tyrone who have potential to make the senior squad in the years ahead, but it is not fair to put too much pressure on them yet. The team that won the 2008 title had some quality players. Some players need three years at under-21 before they make the breakthrough, while others graduate earlier.

“Thirteen players from the 2000 and ‘01 under-21 winning teams came through to help the senior team to victories which were a tremendous amount. The under-21 division is very important in the development of players, with burnout a little exaggerated.

“The demand on players needs to be monitored, there is a short window of time in their lives and common sense needs to prevail. By February college football is over with the 21s finishing in May. If all the teams look at players demands it can certainly be set up in a way that is practical.”

On the direction of football as a whole, he had a novel idea on how the provincial winners should be rewarded in the All-Ireland championship series.

“I would like to see the four winners playing each other, with the two losers going into the quarterfinals with the two winners heading for the semifinals,” he said.

“Dublin won a bunch of Leinster titles, but they never got any further. There needs to be a reward for the title winners.”

The public will agree that the provincial winners are often at a loss for games, while others are going through the back door and getting a head of steam as they head for challenges in the quarters.

Looking back on his career Harte has released an excellent book, "Harte, Presence Is the Only Thing".  It looks back on his career to this point and is candid in its views on games and times from the past, while also touching on the hopes and dreams of the future.

It gives an in-depth look at the years that have given us one of the best managers to ever grace the sideline. With three senior titles on the books already, who is to bet against the Man from Ballycawley from adding to his legend and to the mantle?

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