Mickey Harte has earned the right to choose his own destiny
Tyrone manager’s legacy already written thanks to success comparable to the greats
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is surely contemplating how he will know when his tenure should end. Photograph: Andrew Paton / Inpho / Presseye
Mickey Harte has been in charge of the Tyrone senior football team for the last 12 years. In that time, he has won their first 3 All-Ireland titles, taken the team to extraordinary heights, and in many ways made them one of the truly great stories in the history of the GAA. But at some stage in all that time, maybe even at the height of his success, was there a moment when Harte looked at himself and thought - ‘how will I know when it all should end?’
If he has never asked that question before, I’m sure he’s asking it of himself now. Not necessarily answering in the negative or affirmative just yet - but surely posing himself the question. It’s a safe bet to suggest that a defeat at home to Armagh, in the qualifiers, would not be the sort of way he’d like to exit.
A defeat to Armagh akin to the defeat in the 2005 Ulster final replay, or maybe even deeper into summertime in an act of orange-shirted revenge for the All-Ireland final defeat of 2003, would at least have an operatic quality to it. But with the eyes of the GAA world fixed on provincial finals elsewhere, Tyrone were eased out the door without a whimper. Only two scores from play in the entire game, being held scoreless for the last 20 minutes of a championship match against your fiercest rivals . . . these are not statistics that you would associate with a team which has a bright future ahead of it.
It’s not always easy to see the wood for the trees - when you think of Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry, you think of the eight All-Irelands in 12 seasons between 1975 and 1986. You don’t hear much mention of the three years after ‘86 when Kerry couldn’t get past Cork in Munster; and yet there they are, not a blot on O’Dwyer’s copybook, but a reminder that even the greats don’t know when their time is up. It’s easy to say he should’ve left in 1986, but hindsight is 20:20.
It could also be said that Seán Boylan stayed on too long in Meath, but Boylan had at least won All-Irelands with 2 completely different teams. He had shown an ability to build a team, and then as they departed the scene, to build another team. O’Dwyer won his All-Irelands with an extraordinary group of players, and when they faded, as all players must, O’Dwyer was blinded by his loyalty to them.