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'Were we thinking we had a good chance? Probably not' - Inside Louth's shock move for Harte

Mickey Harte was announced as the new Louth manager last night.

Former Tyrone manager Mickey Harte will be plying his trade in Division 4 in 2021.
Former Tyrone manager Mickey Harte will be plying his trade in Division 4 in 2021.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IN THE DAYS after Tyrone’s Ulster quarter-final exit to Donegal, Mickey Harte first learned of Louth’s interest in bringing him down south as their manager. 

A five-man committee of Louth county board members was set-up to find a successor for Wayne Kierans, and Harte’s name was ambitiously put at the top of the list.

When Tyrone’s interest in the championship ended, the committee had an inkling that the three-time All-Ireland champions would seek a fresh start after 18 years under the legendary figure.

An initial call was made to Harte to gauge his interest. He was open to the idea.

“When Tyrone went out of the championship and we thought there might be an opportunity. It was just more of a conversation,” Louth secretary Bob Doheny tells The42. ”The first official contact was after he stepped down. 

“I’m not so sure was he surprised. Mickey is one of these guys were nothing fazes him. The gentleman he is he had no issue speaking with us.”

County chairman and former manager Peter Fitzpatrick told LMFM Radio: “He said he had a few issues he needed to sort out with Tyrone and he’d get back to us by the end of the week.”

Before the pandemic hit, Harte had planned to make 2020 his last as Tyrone boss. Because of how their preparations were disrupted this year, he sought a one-year extension to his term in the wake of the Donegal game.

On Tuesday 11 November, the request was turned down by the Tyrone county management committee. By the end of the week, 10 days ago, the decision to end his long tenure as county boss was announced.

Early the following week, Harte got back in touch with Louth as promised and indicated he’d be willing to discuss the job further. They spoke about the prospect of Harte and Gavin Devlin, his long term assistant in Tyrone, taking charge of the senior and U20 sides on a three-year term.

Harte and Devlin took the weekend to mull over the decision. Though the talks were positive, Louth officers were still unsure as to whether they had their man.

“Were we thinking we had a good chance? Probably not,” admits Doheny.

“But you never know until you make these calls. You could be afraid to make the calls, but you never know until you make them. Mickey being a GAA man, and we’re all GAA people, you have to ask the question.

“We asked the question and as they say the rest is history.”

On Monday Harte confirmed to the committee he was happy to accept the three-year deal offered, with Devlin on board as his assistant manager.

Despite the local talk that Louth were nearing the appointment of their new manager, Harte hadn’t been linked with the role in the media. To keep such a high-profile move under wraps without a leak was unusual in the modern climate. 

“The five of us are working together in the county board and we said from day one that no matter who we speak to, no matter who we speak about, it was all going to be kept under wraps as the names were coming in,” explains Doheny.

“And to be fair to the people we were talking to, we said it’s only fair we kept it [quiet]. So probably coming closer to the time last night it was hard to keep it, but we’d no issue.

“We agreed from the start that we would wait until an agreement was in place on Mickey taking over. Then we said we’d release it through our county PRO.”

It’s 11 months since an almost entirely new county board was put in place, while planning permission was received in September for the construction of a new €12m 14,000-capacity stadium on Dundalk’s Inner Relief Road.

“We came in with an ambition that we were going to be very, very progressive and we had a lot of ambition to get Louth back where we believe is its rightful place. Since 2010 [when they reached the Leinster final under Fitzpatrick] we’ve gone down on a downward spiral.

“We did hit the heights of Division 2,” Doheny says, referencing their rise through the divisions with successive promotions under Colin Kelly in 2016 and 2017.

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“But we came in with that ambition and that was our goal. We knew we had a term to get things right and we have. We’re building a new stadium in Dundalk and we made a couple of other appointments.

“Our former county manager Colin Kelly is in as coordinator for our development squads and he’s doing fabulous work there. So we have a lot of ambition and we promised the clubs that we were going to be as ambitious as we can and resulted in us appointing Mickey last night.”

On the field, things haven’t been quite as rosy. Louth will be plying their trade in Division 4 next season while Sam Mulroy was their only scorer when they fell at the first hurdle in Leinster to Longford.

It’s a widely held view that the best players in Louth are not currently togging out for the county team. The appointment of a manager of Harte’s stature is likely to change that immediately, while there is a good deal of excitement locally about next year’s U20 side who’ll also have Harte directing operations.

“We had players from the current senior panel in contact last night and today,” says Doheny.

“They’re over the moon. The good will and good feeling in the county of Louth since last night has been bigger than we expected, it’s huge. The whole county is talking, things have taken off. We’ve a lot of people who are excited and can’t wait now for football to start.”

There have been comparisons made with Paidi Ó Sé’s move to Westmeath in 2003, which took place shortly after his request for a one-year extension in Kerry was turned down.

But there isn’t the same promise in the province as when the Sé arrived. Dublin cast a long shadow over Leinster, having won 15 of the last 16 provincial titles. Harte’s best opportunity of silverware next year will be in the Tailteann Cup or basement division of the league.

It’s unfair to measure success in sport in trophies won alone, however. Harte said as much following his departure in Tyrone.

“Is success only winning trophies? Well then I wouldn’t be in sport,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Because for me it’s not only about that. There is a desire to win trophies, but the secret to me of sport is to bring players as near as possible to the best of which they are capable. And to me, that’s success.

“Yes, I would dearly have loved to win more All-Irelands and so would the people of Tyrone and I would be loving to be part of the process that would give them that.

“But I do think it is important to take a step back and ask if the players at any given time giving the best of themselves? And I can honestly say they always did and always are.”

He’ll spend the next few days putting together a backroom team and assessing his playing personnel as the 2021 season looms large. It’s anticipated the league will resume around mid to late February, which leaves the Errigal Ciarán man with a short timeframe to get used to his new surroundings.

“I’ve no doubt they’ve done a lot of homework already,” adds Doheny.

“As any manager of his stature and Gavin Devlin as a coach. These guys have a lot of contacts. They know a lot. A lot of our club and county games have been online and are easily accessed. So I would imagine he’s a lot of homework done because he’d have done that before he agreed anything. 

“He’s a GAA man through and through. He lives, eats, breaths, sleeps it. We all do. The passion is there, absolutely. I think it’s massive we give a big word out to Gavin Devlin as well. To get a coach of his stature was massive to come along with Mickey.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

Originally published at 16.12

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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