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'Mickey made us aware of the occasion and especially aware of the prize at the other end of it'

Tyrone legends Kevin Hughes and Brian McGuigan recall Mickey Harte’s brilliance around All-Ireland finals.

TWO MEN WHO know a thing or two about how Mickey Harte approaches All-Ireland finals are Kevin Hughes and Brian McGuigan.

Mickey Harte before the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The pair worked under Harte since they were minors and feature heavily in the documentary ‘Tir Eoghain – The Unbreakable Bond’ which airs on TG4 tomorrow night at 8.30pm.

Hughes and McGuigan were part of one of the greatest minor sides in history, beating Laois in the 1998 All-Ireland final before achieving back-to-back U21 crowns. 11 members of those underage sides formed the backbone of the Tyrone team that annexed the Sam Maguire for the first time in their history in 2003.

Both players have long since ended their inter-county careers but remarkably Harte is in his 15th season as senior boss, having managed the minors and U21s for 13 years before that.

And he hasn’t lost any of his motivational qualities.

“I was speaking to Mickey on Wednesday night and when he was talking to me he was starting to make me believe too that we’re going down here to win,” says Hughes, Harte’s former midfield lieutenant.

“I remember us going into the 2008 final against Kerry and we were maybe 3/1 to win that. We probably knew we were going out against individually better players in the Kerry team but as a collective unit we just knew we’d a chance.

Mickey Harte Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“The one thing that will stand to Mickey is he’ll have three weeks to prepare. For the Super 8s games and the back door he only had a week to prepare his team for the match. The dangerous thing for Dublin now is that he has three weeks and he is going to be looking at Dublin religiously.

“He will definitely come up with some sort of plan. The unfortunate thing is Mickey might come up a plan and it still won’t be good enough against this Dublin team.

“Mickey instils that belief in you. Even after the Dublin semi-final last year I’d say on the Monday morning after it Mickey was saying, ‘we’re going to win the All-Ireland next year.”

There’s a famous story from Tyrone’s breakthrough All-Ireland in 2003. The night before the final a team meeting took place in Killiney Castle, where they were staying.

On returning to their rooms after the meeting, the players found envelopes addressed to each individual. Inside was a piece of paper with a handwritten message from each of their team-mates describing the recipient’s best qualities.

“I remember lifting that note when we came back from the team meeting that day and it was sitting in an envelope and you read it,” explains Hughes.

“There was obviously no names on it but everybody had written a comment about yourself. The overriding factor in that was there was no him or me or I, it was all about a team: ‘He’ll do anything for the team, for the cause.’

Brian McGuigan, Kevin Hughes and Mark Harte Pictured is Brian McGuigan, Kevin Hughes and Mark Harte who have teamed up today to announce the documentary TÍR EOGHAIN: THE UNBREAKABLE BOND which will air this Sunday 26 August at 8.30pm on TG4. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Even that alone, you knew that we are tight-knit here and we’ve got everybody’s back. Everybody had your back and you knew when you went out onto that Croke Park field that 1-15 and whatever subs are coming on, you’re in a battle to the death and you could trust your teammates to do that,” says Hughes. “That (letter) just instilled that.”

McGuigan believes the idea came from Paddy Tally, the new Down manager, who was part of Harte’s backroom team.

“That night before the 03 final maybe it was Paddy Tally’s idea to do that. When you got that the night before, nobody was going to say anything bad about you but it was the mindset that everyone was saying something good about you and you felt so big going in the next day.

“I do believe it was Mickey’s backroom team because Mickey wasn’t a man to speak one-on-one with you. You weren’t really that comfortable speaking with him one-on-one but the people around him – Paddy Tally, Tony Donnelly who was a great people’s person, you have Gavin Devlin there (now) who you would go through a wall for. The people in the backroom team maybe had a lot to do with that of getting the belief into you.”

Tyrone beat a great Kerry team in the 2003 semi-final and there’s a famous clip on Youtube of them swarming Daire O’Cinneide, Eoin Brosnan, Darragh O Se and eventually turning the ball over during the first half of that game. It was a seminal moment in the match.

The ferocious tackling and work-rate the Red Hand brought that day was like nothing seen in Croke Park before.

Source: Kevin McGillicuddy/YouTube

“Them Tyrone teams, as much talent as we had it was work-rate, collective work-rate,” continues Hughes.

“That clip against Kerry – I always refer back to. We were just like a pack of ravenous wolves. Talent didn’t win that game, it was pure hard work, dedication and backing each man up to the hilt.

“I think that’s what this team have because they’ve no stars, no stand-out forwards, no stand-out player there. As a collective unit they’re very strong and that plays into the favour of Mickey and how he’ll want to prepare them.”

During those team meetings, Harte would go into an intense level of detail on the opposition. No stone was left turned and the players would have no doubts in their minds they were going to do the business in the biggest game of all.

“I think personally as you prepare you’ll always go out and say, ‘It’s just another game it’s like playing on your club pitch,’” says Hughes. “Just to get your mind right. But then Mickey would always make us aware of the occasion and especially aware of the prize at the other end of it. And that really got you.

“Everyone has their own preparations for a game, whether it’s superstitious or whatever. But Mickey would take you to that next level of getting you prepared to go to battle: ‘Right, you’ve done all your own preparation, this is where you need to go now once we cross the line.’ He’s a real master a that.

Mickey Harte Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“People will always say, ‘Ah we’ll just worry about ourselves we won’t worry about the opposition.’ Mickey meticulously looks at the opposition and he has a gameplan from number one (to 15). I remember vividly where before every game we would be going up, we’d have our team meal and then we’d go in and Tony especially would have went through the team and who you were likely to be marking.

“Their strengths – are they left-sided, both sided – and they knew every player individually meticulously and then we knew, ‘Right we need to expect this. If he can throw you a solo dummy or whatever else. We were as well prepared for the opposition as anybody could be.”

McGuigan chimes in: “Mickey just does things that you don’t realise what he’s doing but there’s something behind it. I always remember, we stayed in Killiney Castle in 2003 and because the night before the biggest match after, everybody spoke about the great night sleep they had that night.

“It was just everything leading up the match that Mickey had done that you just felt so relaxed and confident going into the final that you were going to win it.”

Kevin Hughes and Martin Swift take to the field Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Tyrone are big underdogs next weekend, but they were unfancied too in 2008 when they handed out a 3-14 to 1-8 beating to the Dubs in the quarter-final. During a team meeting, Harte sat the players down and they spent 20 minutes watching Dublin play.

“I think Dublin in 08 you really noticed it because Dublin steamrolled through Leinster,” continues Hughes.

“We got beat against Down in the first round, we were stumbling through the backdoor. Again we were large underdogs. I remember watching the video the Thursday night before and it was just all clips of Dublin.

“And he just said, ‘Boys sit down and watch 20 minutes of Dublin.’ And it just showed Dublin getting score after score, how they had played against all the teams. And he says, ‘What do you notice?’

“And we were like, ‘Nobody’s tackling them. They’re not putting a hand on them. What the fuck are these teams at?’

“And he said, ‘Exactly’. And this is how he made you confident. He says, ‘All you need to do is go out and close them down, tackle them and close the middle and the play our counter-attacking game.

“He says, ‘Dublin aren’t this great team.’ Back then they probably weren’t as good as they are now, but it was just wee things like that. And you were going out thinking, ‘Fuck, all I have to do is tackle this man.’ You were that comfortable going out because of the mindset that Mickey got you into.”

Mickey Harte with Jim Gavin Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Then the meeting would move on to the match-ups, where Donnelly would step up.

“Then Tony would put up the match-ups. – we’d always finish up by going through them. He’d go, ‘Right, Sean Cavanagh on Shane Ryan. Who would you rather have? He’d pick ou five that you knew you were going to win and then you’re just going out thinking, ‘Sure we’re a better team than these boys.’ It’s just all about mindset and Mickey’s good at that.”

Harte will need to use all his managerial experience and tactical nous to stop Jim Gavin’s side from winning a fourth title in succession next weekend. Dublin’s style of play has evolved over the last few years and McGuigan believes Harte set-up his side differently to last year’s semi-final.

“The one thing I’ve noticed about how Mickey has set up his team now is that in the past he would have wanted to set up a whole zonal defensive system in the middle of the field and that was leaving the wings idle at that time.

“The two defeats they got was Dublin in the semi-final last year, Monaghan in the Ulster Championship match this year. How those teams done the damage was keeping their teams wide and nobody following them.

“I noticed against Monaghan in the last match in Croke Park, when Monaghan went wide, Tyrone players followed them wide. The one problem with that is if we’re making the centre free… it’s trying to get the balance right between picking up the men going wide and protecting the middle.

“How Mickey deals with that, I don’t know. I know Colm (Cavanagh) will protect the middle. The one thing I’m glad to see is Colly and Frank Burns were playing sweeper. Colly came into his own when Frank Burns took off against Donegal. The fact that Colly has played sweeper on his own means he has to go for everything.

Ryan McAnespie with Colm Cavanagh Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“When Frank was there and he was there, they were kind of in two minds whether are you going or am I going? Whereas now Colly has to go at every opportunity, he’s doing such a good job in there.”

For Hughes, Lee Brennan may be a better option off the bench to make a similar impact to Kevin McManamon for Dublin.

“I am a massive fan of Lee Brennan, and I have been since he was playing U21s. I think at the minute, where he’s at, I know he was injured and he’s coming back in and he’s probably fully fit now but he probably still doesn’t have too much game-time, I would prefer to see him coming off the bench to be honest.

“I think he can make a great impact because he’s one of these players. Because he’s skilful and he’s got that about him, he can have an immediate impact when he comes on even against a zonal defence.

“I think defences now, and Tyrone were exposed a bit last year against Dublin and Dublin pulled them out wide, they were caught in no man’s land because they had to defend for themselves.

Lee Brennan 12/8/2018 Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Whereas usually, Tyrone would be usually set up zonal defending, there’s two or three men always moving around and when they had to go man-for-man, they were found out a bit. I think even like that, when Lee Brennan came on, I think he’s he’s a better impact, and I probably would like to see Mark (Bradley) start ahead of him. Or the two of them start, which would indicate we are going to be more offensive and go for it.

“I think Kieran McGeary should start, he had been coming on as an impact sub. I’d like to see him start. He’s a good man who can take on an individual man-marking role for Ciarán Kilkenny or something like that, and Pádraig Hampsey is obviously there who’s a good man to take on a role like that.

“It’s a game of finding the balance. You want to have subs coming on making an impact, not a sub that’s coming on that’s going to do you a bit of a job. In the All-Ireland final especially, you want somebody like a Kevin McManamon coming on. So I think Mickey has to think about that and get a right balance.”

McGuigan agrees that Bradley might serve Tyrone better if he starts.

“I think Mark Bradley is even better starting, because when he came on, he didn’t make much of an impact. Where with Lee, he comes on and does make an impact. His theory behind that by all accounts was that he wanted Lee on for the free kicks.

“It has been a problem for Tyrone, especially the right sided free kicks. He would justify it that Lee Brennan scored one free kick against Monaghan and Tyrone won by a point, and he would probably justify that he was right in doing that.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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