Much-maligned Tyrone still a force to be reckoned with
They may not be the most popular team but Mickey Harte’s men still possess the hauteur and class of former champions
At their best, their play has been scintillating. They have abrasive characters. They have defenders who like to like to get in the ear of their opponents, who niggle, get under your skin. They have players of undiluted class.
They have been involved in some brilliant and some ugly games down the years. They have players who live on the edge. The animosity experienced by the Donegal players when they played Tyrone in the league this year set them up for their opening championship game this summer. But the effort that they expended in beating Tyrone may have killed Donegal’s summer.
Tyrone looked shambolic by the end of that match in May, their winter’s work and best ambitions blown apart and out of the Ulster championship. But the Red Hand did what they do; they knuckled down and started winning qualifying games in their understated fashion. Nobody, remember, paid them too much attention until they met Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter final of 2008. Then, that light switch.
Now, they find themselves back in the last four of the All-Ireland at odds with the world. Seán Cavanagh, the best player of his generation, was, indirectly and otherwise, labelled a cheat for his tackle late in the quarter-final against Monaghan. One thing that was never mentioned about that tackle was how safely it was executed.
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness was accused of gamesmanship for articulating his annoyance at a challenge which left one of his players unable to remember anything about the game. Cavanagh’s tackle was deliberate and methodical but it was one of the least dangerous challenges of the season. And he was pilloried.
Mickey Harte still isn’t speaking with RTÉ in a stand-off going back several years now. People who wonder when Harte might end his silence might recall how long he spent in isolation from his own club over a small but vital matter of principle. “Never” is a good bet. Tyrone football people believe that media pundits in RTÉ and elsewhere feel empowered to level any accusation at their team. Sure it’s only ‘Throne’. If you stand where they stand, it is hard to disagree with them. Just because you’re paranoid and all that.....
Tyrone do not have the same quality as the side which won its last All-Ireland in such shimmering fashion. They have lost the genius of McGuigan for a start. So much is gone, from the workaholic brilliance that Brian Dooher provided to the punkish excitement which Owen Mulligan brought to the attack. And yet, here they are. Ten years later. They haven’t gone away and they have lost none of the edge. Harte is, unquestionably, one of the greatest football coaches the game has known. And there is a strong argument to be made that constructing yet another team capable of making it this far in the All-Ireland championship must rank as one of his finest achievements.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Tyrone will run onto the field tomorrow with a sprinkling of proven All-Ireland winners at all grades. They possess the hauteur of former champions. A decade after their emergence, they are still outside the establishment and will never be national darlings. But when they turn it on, watch out.