Harte determined to keep his head

 

This was not ideal preparation for an All-Ireland semi-final, but Mickey Harte still had a slight smile on his face in the immediate aftermath of the trouncing his team had just given Fermanagh. Gavin Cummiskey reports.

Maybe it was because of all the close encounters they have experienced along their path to this stage that they have finally ironed out most of the creases. They now have the look of a team that are equipped to go all the way.

The shock of the premature exit in the fourth round of the qualifiers last year to Sligo is beginning to fade from memory. The wounds are beginning to heal.

"There was a great focus within the team this year," said Harte. "Particularly with this being at Croke Park we were constantly reminded of Sligo. That's fair, people can do that, but it does really begin to grate on the nerves of the players who have been part of that.

"That was Fermanagh's downfall more than anything: the fact that Sligo was thrown in our faces so often. I think it gave them the will to go on and improve on that situation. Now we have put it behind us somewhat - it's not totally behind us, there is more work to do before people can bury that once and for all."

Still, he refused to accept that the 19-point margin of victory was more of a hindrance than an advantage.

"No game is ever easy in the championship, you look at the scoreline and you suggest it is easy, but if it were easy then lots of teams would be doing it. We had to work hard to get ourselves into the position we were in at half time and we did that, and then we had to work twice as hard to keep that position in the second half.

"You do what you have to do on any given day and you know that it is going to set you up in some way for the next day, but we have to take what we have and work with whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. We will deal with the next day when it comes," he added.

Fermanagh manager Dom Corrigan came out of the dressing-room with his head held high. The man has seen too much and experienced too much success with his team this year to focus on the negative aspects of how it all ended.

"We were outclassed on the day. We were expecting it to be close, we knew we had a major challenge on our hands and that we were up against probably the best team in the country here today.

"They got five or six points ahead of us after 10 minutes, and then they got the goal and there was just no way back. They kept the foot to the pedal," he said of the Tyrone performance.

"Our boys know that we are much better than we showed there today, and that is disappointing. But these boys have turned in a tremendous effort all season, they blazed their own trail. I think what has happened over these past two months would have brought the team on immeasurably. Hopefully, for the experiences, the good and the painful one today, we will be the stronger for it next season."

Corrigan couldn't put his finger on why his charges failed to cope on the big stage, especially the senior men like captain Raymond Gallagher, who had an uncharacteristically bad day.

"It's hard to know what went wrong, Raymie didn't get into the game, but it was a collective thing. I felt right around the park we weren't competing, we were playing second fiddle."

The tie in itself was the worst aspect of the whole affair. A big quarter-final and they got their Ulster rivals. This made the effort of being giant-killers that much more difficult. A major advantage the underdogs have is they are an unknown quantity, and this wasn't the issue yesterday.

"They were the team that I was hoping to avoid at all costs," said Corrigan. "I would have preferred any of the other three. We haven't a good championship record against them and they are flying at the minute."

Last year Corrigan said whoever beat Kerry would win the All-Ireland, and this year he repeated the prediction but in reference to the Ulster champions.

Meanwhile, Harte has been trying to convince everybody his men are not the finished article.

"You have to take every result in the greater context of results. I still can never forget that we were almost gone against Derry in the first game in Clones and against Down in the Ulster final, so when you put all those things together we are a product in the making, we're not a finished product."

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to believe him.