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'I know something that's much, much worse than this and never could be compared to this'

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has been able to retain a sense of perspective in the wake of his first All-Ireland senior final defeat.

Updated Sep 4th 2018, 12:01 PM

THEY SAY PERSPECTIVE is everything in life. 

For Tyrone boss Mickey Harte, Sunday’s All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin certainly hurt, but he was able to keep things in context.

Harte has known true loss. 

Mickey Harte dejected at the end of the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Death and illness have been frequent visitors to Harte’s door over the past three decades, most notably the 2011 murder of his daughter Micheala and his 30-month cancer battle from 2015.

Speaking at the team’s Citywest hotel yesterday, Harte spoke philosophically about the six-point reverse to Dublin. 

“Obviously, the different perspective is that I have to think and balance all of these things and how football can become a life and death issue for people who have never experienced life and death issues. 

“I understand that and they’re passionate about the sport and they’re heartbroken about this here and so I would never take away from their sort of sense of hurt or loss. I would perfectly understand it, but I would like them to think outside the box as well and say there are many worse things that you can wake up to on a Monday morning. 

“Just think about that, that people have to think and wake up to those things, things that are more permanent, loss or hurt, involved in. I’ll think about their hurt and loss as football people and fanatics and I appreciate that.

“I empathise with it but I’d ask them to think about how people wake up to something that can never be the same again, and there’s never another chance to get back to where you’d have like to be.

“And then they’ll begin to understand that while it may be life and death in words, in real terms it’s not. There are things that are more important than that. So I have to think carefully about the balance of that and not be taking away from people’s normal day to day sense of loss in terms of sport. So I really have to think about that but I’d like them to think about the other as well. 

Kieran McGeary dejected after the game Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“That’s maybe what makes this more possible for me today, I would have probably been more heartbroken about this if life had been different in our case. But the fact that I know something that’s much much worse than this and never could be compared to this, then I feel hurt about this but it’s not like the real hurt of loss.”

All-Ireland final defeats have had a major impact on Harte before. As a player he lost the 1972 minor final, something which created a burning desire inside him to scale that mountain. After taking over in ’91, the summit of his ambition was to win an All-Ireland minor title.

“It really stuck with him,” Brian McGuigan recalled recently when speaking about his minor days under Harte. “He always threw it up to us, saying he lost that final in ’72 and this was his chance to redeem himself.”

Tyrone lost to Laois in the All-Ireland final of the ’97 minor campaign, recovering from the tragic death of half-forward Paul McGirr in June to reach the September decider. Harte considered walking away, but the players persuaded him to stay on.

Micheala helped too. She wrote a note predicting this “special” group of players would win the Tom Markham Cup in ’98, the All-Ireland U21 crown in ’00 and the Sam Maguire in ’03. And they did exactly that, before adding further senior titles in ’05 and ’08.

aaaaa Micheala's note from Kicking Down Heaven's Door: The Diary of a Football Manager

As far back as ’93, Harte was confronted with death of a player. Arthur Mallon had been a member of his minor panel that year but withdraw from the squad due to injury. The night before they played Donegal in the Ulster semi-final, word came through that Mallon had been killed in a car accident. 

In ’98, Harte’s minor midfielder Kevin Hughes lost his brother Paul in a car crash. The Omagh bombing the same year deeply affected everyone in the county. In ’01, Hughes was part of Harte’s U21 set-up when his sister Helen was also killed in car accident in between the drawn and replayed All-Ireland semi-finals.

Cormac McAnallen captained Tyrone to All-Ireland senior success in ’03 and died in his sleep of an undetected heart condition the following year.

In recent years, Micheala’s murder while honeymooning in Mauritius and Harte’s 2015 bladder cancer diagnosis further tested his resolve and offered fresh perspective.

“It was difficult, obviously, when you get that news it’s not something you want to hear,” he said of his cancer battle.

“But I was very, very lucky that I got the best possible treatment in Craigavon Hospital. Mark Haynes was the consultant who dealt with me and he was very, very good and the whole staff there and all were more than helpful.

Mickey Harte dejected after the game Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It just shows you the quality of the health service that people often speak about how under pressure they are, and they are under pressure, but there’s still really quality people there who care so much about people. I just felt very well looked after.

“Yeah, it was a shock to the system at a time when we weren’t going very well as a team either. We got relegated that year in 2015, and it seemed to be like things were taking a turn for the bad, so to speak. But thank God things came good again. With prayer and medicine and everything it’s possible and I’m back and well again thank God.”

While Harte says there were “moves afoot to try to get me to go” as manager, he never considered stepping down.

“No, I think it was important that I had the football to take your mind to other things and to have something to drive for. It’s one of those things, in the journey of life you meet many things and it’s great to have the power and strength and the grace of God to live with it and deal with it and here we are today.

“For every sort of bad day there’s always a good day and maybe that’s the way of life. Enjoy the times that are good and then manage the times that are not.”

He confirmed he’ll return to the helm in 2019 for his 17th season as senior manager and his 28th consecutive year in the inter-county game, having taken over the minors in ’91.

“I would like to think that alright, I think you might look back and say that I’m on here for three more years and this is just the first of them over, so I have no real desire to walk away from that. No, not at all.

“This to me is just a wonderful opportunity to experience something really new and to bring a new and young set of players to the highest level if we can. I believe it’s possible, they believe it’s possible, we have to go and do what will be required to make it possible.

“I don’t need anything to make me hungrier to be quite honest with you. I have just got an insatiable appetite for working with quality players, and I feel it as a privilege from the first day I came in with the Tyrone minors in 1991.

“I have seen it as nothing but a privilege to work with the best players at any age level in our county. This to me just gets better and better. The fact that this is a completely new team; none of them up until yesterday had started an All-Ireland final.” 

Harte had choice words for Tyrone’s critics who claim they lack the marquee forward to win an All-Ireland, saying some pundits are “living in the distant past” with their analysis of his team.

“I just think it’s a tired sound bite, it really is. This thing called marquee forwards; it’s something of the past. It’s not about being a marquee forward; it’s about the number of quality finishers wherever they come from on the field.

“The marquee has maybe strength, but it’s also going to be a great weakness. If you have a marquee forward and he’s double-teamed and stuffed out of the game, what do the rest of the people do? Do they say, ‘Oh, our marquee forwards are not getting seven or eight points’ when we are beaten?

“I think you need a spread of scorers in the modern game and people capable of taking them. And the fact that a forward is only described as marquee because he gets six, seven or eight points in a match, to me is absolutely childish.

“We have plenty of marquee forwards who are quality players who can do lots of things with the ball, and if somebody wants to give me the definition of a marquee forward, I’ll give them plenty of them, not people who get 0-6 0-7 or 0-8 in a game.

“The game has moved on, and people are living in the distant past. It’s sound bites, it’s just a lack of independent analysis and thinking and it’s actually boring. These sound bites just get rather boring. People never really dig into them and say, ‘Is there substance to this kind of statement or not?’

“Give us something better than that you know? That’s what being an analyst should be about. It should be insightful and trying to come up with new ways of describing things rather than leading on some old clichéd throwaway sound bite. Get better thinking out of it all.”

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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