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5 massive challenges facing Mickey Harte as Tyrone try to revive glory days

The omens are bleak for Tyrone ahead of Sunday’s clash with Donegal

Mickey Harte has a major job on his hands as Tyrone aim to re-emerge as a championship force
Mickey Harte has a major job on his hands as Tyrone aim to re-emerge as a championship force
Image: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

1. Championship stock has plummeted

Tyrone have struggled to make an impact in the All-Ireland series since last lifting the Sam Maguire Cup in 2008.

The Red Hands did win Ulster titles in 2009 and 2010 but Dublin ended their championship interest at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage five years ago, with Cork winning the 2009 semi-final.

Dublin were also too good in the last eight of the 2011 championship before Kerry knocked them out of the qualifiers in round 3 a year later.

2013 represented a marked improvement as Mickey Harte’s charges recovered from a six-point defeat against Donegal in Ulster to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals, where they were beaten by Mayo.

But the 2014 campaign was a forgettable one for Tyrone, who slumped against Monaghan in the provincial quarter-final before bitter Ulster rivals Armagh knocked them out in round 2B of the qualifiers.

Tyrone footballers on the final whistle Tyrone's bench celebrate 2008 All-Ireland final glory at the final whistle Source: James Crombie/INPHO

2. It’s Donegal again

Next Sunday’s Ulster preliminary round clash is the fourth provincial meeting between Tyrone and Donegal in five seasons.

And Donegal have the Indian sign on their opponents after beating Tyrone by six points in the 2013 Ulster SFC quarter-final, and by two in the 2012 semi-final showdown.

Donegal also ruled the roost when the counties clashed in the 2011 Ulster semi-final, when Jim McGuinness plotted a 2-6 to 0-9 victory.

In those last three fixtures, Tyrone have managed to score just 29 points, illustrating just how difficult a nut they have found Donegal to crack.

And you have to go back to 2007 for Tyrone’s last championship victory over Donegal, who love nothing more than upsetting their rivals.

Harte won’t need reminding that Tyrone were All-Ireland champions in 2004 when Colm McFadden scored 1-7 in Clones to send them crashing into the qualifiers.

Source: GAA Archive/YouTube

3. Arresting poor League form

If Tyrone’s Allianz League Division 1 form is anything to go by, they don’t stand a chance of beating Donegal in Ballybofey on Sunday.

The Red Hands were relegated to the second tier after winning just one of their seven group outings, against Mayo.

And when Tyrone met next Sunday’s championship opponents Donegal at Ballybofey in the penultimate round of matches, the hosts inflicted a damaging 1-13 to 0-6 defeat.

That ten-point hammering left Tyrone with a mountain to climb in their final game against Kerry and not even a hard-fought draw against the All-Ireland champions was enough to save their skins.

Tyrone’s low scoring rate is Mickey Harte’s most obvious concern.

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In five of their seven games, Tyrone failed to register a goal and their combined League tally was 3-73, or an average of under 12 points per game.

Their lowest return was 0-6 against Donegal but the warning signs were there from the very first day of the campaign, when they hit just 0-9 in defeat to Monaghan.

Sean Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly dejected The harsh reality of relegation sinks in with Mattie Donnelly (11) and Sean Cavanagh Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

4. How best to blood members of the All-Ireland U21 winning team

Harte must be sorely tempted to add real freshness to his team by drafting in members of the All-Ireland U21 winning crop.

Underage success doesn’t necessarily guarantee subsequent senior glory, of course, but Harte badly needs an infusion of quality in a side that slumped to relegation from the top flight.

Players such as Cathal McShane and captain Kieran McGeary were excellent for the U21s and boast the physical presence and footballing ability that could see them adapt quickly to the white heat of senior fare.

The delicate balancing act for Harte is to ensure that it’s not too soon and too early for his emerging young stars to make the step-up.

And in a squad containing so many disparate personalities, Harte will be conscious not to upset older players in the squad by placing his trust in untried individuals at this level.

But these are the type of cold, clinical calls facing Harte, who won’t place too much stock in previous achievements and reputations.

Tyrone players celebrate with the cup How many of Tyrone's All-Ireland U21 winning team will make the grade at senior level? Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

5. Replacing retired heroes

Year on year, there’s a natural rate of attrition when it comes to retirements from all intercounty squads.

But Mickey Harte has been working without real experience in 2015, after Stephen O’Neill, Martin Penrose and Conor Gormley called time on their stellar Red Hand careers.

O’Neill and Penrose confirmed their decisions late last year, before Gormley followed suit in January.

O’Neill and Penrose would have provided Harte with useful attacking options while Gormley will always be remembered for that remarkable block to deny Armagh’s Steven McDonnell in the 2003 All-Ireland final.

Source: LouisTubeful/YouTube

Between them, O’Neill, Penrose and Gormley collected eight All-Ireland medals, with O’Neill and Gormley both winning three, in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

Harte also raised eyebrows at the start of the campaign when he axed former All-Ireland minor medallist Kyle Coney from his squad, along with regular scorer Mark Donnelly.

Stephen O'Neill Stephen O'Neill announced his intercounty retirement last year Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

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About the author:

Jackie Cahill

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