DUBLIN’S CONVINCING ALL-Ireland semi-final victory last August was seen by many as the death knell for Tyrone’s style of play. 12 months on though, they’re back in their first final in a decade with largely the same system.
Some new faces have been introduced to the Tyrone starting 15 but they remain an outfit who defend in numbers and counter-attack at pace.
Between all the ex-Tyrone players doing media interviews this week, perhaps no man can provide a better insight into the mind of Mickey Harte than his son Mark.
The 39-year-old was an All-Ireland winner under his father in 2003 and 2005. Since his retirement, he has worked in the media as an analyst on TG4 and been involved in club management in Tyrone and Derry.
Mark says his father started planning for the 2018 season shortly after the disheartening semi-final to Dublin in Croke Park.
“Every time a campaign would end, whether it was a success or failure, he would get back to planning for the next year very, very soon,” he says.
“I don’t see a difference in that. I’ve seen him in years after winning the All-Ireland and within a very short space of time he’ll already look forward to the next year.
“And I’ve seen him at times when the campaign has ended earlier than he would like and he’s planning right away. He’s measured in his approach. He doesn’t get too excited by the big wins or too defeated by the big losses.
“He sees it as a constant learning experience and every year he brings that learning into the next campaign. I’ve no doubt no matter what way Sunday goes he’ll apply the same philosophy.”
Harte says his father remains composed in the lead-up to All-Ireland finals.
“I think he’s fully enjoying the experience. This is the game he loves, this is the job he loves, this is the county he loves. There has to be a natural element of nervousness, there has to be a natural element of excitement.
“But he’s very grounded, he’s been there for quite a while now. He’s fortunate to have experienced a few finals at this stage. But he has a life to live outside of football as well, that includes grandchildren, it involves working in the community and meeting people.
“So there’s plenty going in his life to keep him busy, but I suppose for the next week and a half or so, the football will take priority, there’s no doubt about that.”
While he says getting back to the All-Ireland final was Mickey’s “ultimate goal”, there were plenty of landmines to be navigated before then.
“Because of the nature of the Ulster championship and because of the way Tyrone went about the backdoor this year – after the defeat to Monaghan that looked like quite a job to get that task. So you had to take it game by game.
“I suppose the ultimate goal for every county when you start off is there be two teams standing at the end of the year – be one of those teams. Tyrone are no different. Albeit they went quite a scenic route to get there but we’re all very glad that’s where they’ve got to.”
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Tyrone fell at the quarter-final hurdle in 2016 and were beaten in the semi-finals of 2015 and 2017. Had they lost out to Monaghan in the last four this year, there may have been question marks over the ability of this group to deliver in the business end of the All-Ireland series.
“I think it (beating Monaghan) was crucial. It was the next natural step. Another semi-final defeat might have let one or two doubts creep in the players’ minds. There didn’t seem to be any doubt from the start of the year that Tyrone meant business this year.
“Some of the performances were better than others but to go one step further and make a final I think is quite a good response from last year’s semi-final defeat and it’s bound to encourage and inspire the team to give it their best in the final.”
Mickey Harte has never been beaten on the showpiece day of Gaelic football, achieving victory on each of Tyrone’s All-Ireland senior final appearances in the noughties.
One interesting statistic from those victories is the Red Hand’s three Sam Maguire victories arrived against the reigning champions – Armagh in 2003 and Kerry in both 2005 and 2008.
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That winning mindset will be of vital importance for Tyrone as they face the three-in-a-row champions who haven’t lost a championship game since 2014.
“There’s an appreciation when you pull on that jersey that it’s yours for 75 or 80 minutes and you’ve got to empty your heart and soul into it,” says Harte.
“As Tyrone fans all we ask is that the team give it their best and I don’t think we can argue with the result after that. There’s no magic formula it’s just a case of preparing as best as you can, turning up on the day, giving it your best performance.
“If it’s good enough, it’s good enough and if it’s not, it’s not.”
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