Peter Harte sensing a shift in momentum for Tyrone
Stalwart believes qualifier run and arrival of fresh talent has stiffened Ulster side’s resolve
Peter Harte: “They all play the Tyrone way, if you like. A brand of football where you use your head in certain situations.” Photograph: Matt Mackey/Presseye /Inpho
“It’s all a blink,” says Peter Harte, and he’s not talking about that near non-stop journey which has taken Tyrone back into an All-Ireland football semi-final. He’s talking about his entire football career.
Sunday’s showdown against All-Ireland champions Kerry comes exactly 15 weeks since Tyrone lost to Donegal, in the Ulster preliminary round. Since then they’ve come back down qualifier avenue, beating Limerick, Meath, Tipperary, Sligo and then Monaghan.
For Harte, it’s also seven years since his career first took off, as part of the Tyrone minor team that won the 2008 All-Ireland title (beating Mayo in a replay). Mattie Donnelly and Ronan McNabb also came from that minor team, yet Harte still finds it a little strange to find himself considered one of Tyrone’s most established players.
“This is my sixth year in the panel now, and they go by very, very quickly,” he says. “And since I first came onto the panel, it’s all a blink. Seán Cavanagh and Joe McMahon and them boys would have said that to me. And it’s only now, when I’m in the middle of my career, that I’m realising it’s going by quickly. And that if you don’t make your mark quickly then you’re on the way out.
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“They were obviously going to be leading from the front, because they had been doing it for years so you were taking more of a back-seat. But as those players get older and retire, it’s probably more of a natural thing than anything else.”
Harte’s strength as a minor and in the seven years since has been his versatility. A nephew of manager Mickey Harte, he’s equally comfortable in the half forwards or half backs, and always good for a score. He’s hit 2-5 this summer, and set up at least as much again.
There is a sense the qualifier route has served Tyrone well, although Harte admits the defeat to Donegal left them facing a wall of uncertainty. Indeed now, 15 weeks on, it feels like an entirely different season, if not Tyrone team.
“Aye, because the season is so long, it nearly does feel like there’s two separate seasons. Even in Tyrone, you play all your league football and then there’s a break, and you play your club championship. And then you come back into championship mode with Tyrone again, so there is nearly two distinct seasons. I’ve nearly forgotten about that Donegal game, to be honest.
One of the differences now, he says, is a more settled Tyrone panel: “They were years when we were more so in transition and not as successful.
“They’re just games that you learn from. You learn how far away you are and what the top teams are doing and maybe have to look a wee bit more at what we’re doing here compared to what Kerry are doing.
“It’s all part of that process of learning and trying to get better and we’re still on it. We’re far from the finished article, but hopefully we’re on the right path now.”
There has also been an injection of the All-Ireland under-21 winning team, particularly the likes of forward Mark Bradley.
“They’ve added a good bit of energy and confidence. They were coming in off the back of an All-Ireland win so they came in here with no fear really.
“They all play the Tyrone way, if you like. A brand of football where you use your head in certain situations. The likes of Mark Bradley and them boys are doing it now and hopefully it continues this year and for a few years to come.”
As for Tyrone’s somewhat infamous rivalry with Kerry, Harte prefers to look ahead, rather than back: “It’s August, it’s a semi-final, I don’t think Kerry will be looking too much back either. New players have come in and it’s all about next Sunday and that’s all we’re concentrating on.”