Mickey Harte and Tyrone braced for acid test
Veteran manager relishing the task of pitting his charges against champions Dublin
Mickey Harte: “When you play Dublin in Croke Park in the championship, it might as well be an All-Ireland final because the atmosphere is there.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne
These are challenging times for Mickey Harte. It’s hard enough to keep evolving the style of the Tyrone footballers in this his 15th season as manager. It’s harder still keeping track of their taste in music.
“Of course, if I didn’t evolve, didn’t try to think outside the box, think a little differently, we wouldn’t be in this place right now,” says Harte, that place being Sunday’s semi-final showdown against All-Ireland champions Dublin.
“And yes, you’ve got to move with the times. Even to the extent of moving with my taste in music. Maybe that’s the most challenging thing for me. To listen to some of the stuff that is now put forward as music.
“This isn’t the noughties now, this is 2017. This is the world we’re living in today, so we have to try to manage all of what that entails.”
Harte is not one for looking back. Nothing about Sunday’s game will be decided on his past achievements, he says, because mostly everything about the way he approaches the game is different to when Tyrone won their first All-Ireland in his first season as manager, in 2003, or indeed when they won again in 2005 and 2008.
Getting back to the All-Ireland final, he says, is now the immediate challenge. “It’s been a while since we had that experience. It’s not so much about this game, as about where it would bring us to, regardless of who the opposition are.
“We have watched these finals since ’ 08 with a huge amount of envy if you like. It is a great place to be and the normal place to be for Dublin over the last few years. So I hope that the desire for us to be there is something we could use to our advantage. Where it’s not more of the same for us. It’s something special and we haven’t had it for some time.
“And I really wouldn’t want to be involved if I didn’t believe it was possible to go to the top of the hill, then I don’t think I should be there, because you wouldn’t be doing the proper service to the players you have at your disposal.”
Sunday marks their first championship meeting with Dublin since 2011, when Tyrone lost by seven points, and since then Dublin have won four All-Irelands. Which begs the question: is this Tyrone team at the right point of their evolution to take on Dublin?
“It’s very hard to give a definitive answer to that. I don’t know. To me, when you play Dublin in Croke Park in the championship, it might as well be an All-Ireland final because the atmosphere is there. The same crowd is there, the same power of the Hill is there.
“We don’t have to talk Dublin up. Their record says it for themselves so yeah, it’s kind of one of those challenges that you need to get sometime and you don’t know how well you would be able to deal with it until you go toe to toe with them. That’s what we are stepping into, it’s the full package that we have to deal with.
“We are a year older, all of us. And the players for all of them, that is a good thing. We have to balance it up. Yes, it is nice to have another year’s experience. It would have been nice to have another year’s experience having been in an All-Ireland final. Are we in a better place? Who knows until after this game is played.”
It would certainly appear Tyrone are better equipped in their forward line; they have scored 6-77 in their four championship games to date.
“We were trying very hard last year,” says Harte, on that issue of scoring. “We had a very good season up until we met Mayo and we did create many more chances than we converted. So that is something the players have thought long and hard about.
“I’ve always said, in all the years I’ve been involved in management of teams, I’d rather be creating chances, even if you are not taking as many as you’d like, than not creating chances at all.
“We’ve worked very much on people preparing to take on shots, but you can’t just wait to the day of the game to do that. We need this in training every night. We need players who may not normally be shooters finding themselves in positions to take scores.
“I think that has contributed to the spread of scores we have had, that we now have players who don’t believe ‘I get a nosebleed here’ if they find themselves in a position to take a shot. [instead it’s]’I am prepared and capable of taking this on’.
“So, yes, there’s been a whole lot of thought around the idea of finishing better. But I can’t say that transformation will just take place in one year either. The whole idea that lots of people score on every day we’ve played this year, to me that’s a good thing.”
And should Tyrone beat Dublin on Sunday, how would that rank in his list of achievements?
“I don’t think it is right to compare this team to a previous era. I think they have to be allowed to be judged in their own right. I think you have to judge them by where they were a few years ago, where they are now, and is that success? I would say ‘Yes, that is success’. They have a little bit of silverware on the way to doing that too, which is no bad thing.”