Mickey Harte, Derry manager. James Crombie/INPHO
Up and Running

'They want to go to a level beyond Ulster' - Mickey Harte and Derry's ambitions

After winning 12 Dr McKenna Cups with Tyrone, Harte targets making the final with Derry and defending their crown.


Nobody has done more for the credibility of a pre-season competition than Mickey Harte has done for the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup.

As Tyrone manager, he attended every launch and spoke at length to all the media present. It became a regular slot in winter coverage.

He won no fewer than 12 McKenna Cups with Tyrone. When their ability to compete might have been compromised, even slightly, by players playing for their colleges, he went to war with the Ulster Council over eligibility.

It’s no great secret why he targeted early season success. In 18 seasons with Tyrone, he was only known to play one single challenge game, and that was against Carlow in one of his last years.

After taking charge of Louth, and now Derry, he has continued the policy.

“I don’t really believe a lot in challenge matches, no, I believe in the real thing,” he said after the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna opening win over Cavan.

Given he was coming into a new panel then, how did he assess the abilities?

“We didn’t even have enough to play 15-a-side or anything like that there, but whatever number you have you can still find out what players are made of in small-game situations, condense the field and play all kinds of game.

“Whether it be the collective defending or one to one defending, or what people do under pressure, you can create those environments and I have a man who is very good at that in Gavin Devlin. He is a really top-class coach and the coaching he does is second to none.”

As for his aspirations to win a 13th title, the message never changes, regardless of the emblem on his chest.

“Four games in this competition. To get four, is the first thing. To get four would be brilliant.

“If you are in the final, you do your best to win it.”

As unusual as Harte’s move to Derry is, it’s also rare that incoming managers inherit teams that are on winning runs. Liam Sheedy leaving Tipperary as All-Ireland champions in 2010 and Jim Gavin departing Dublin after the five in a row are extremely rare examples.

Harte has come into a squad that have just achieved back-to-back Ulster titles and ran Kerry very hard for a place in the All-Ireland final.

Harte feels there is another level to be reached.

“We are looking to add value to that, a team that has won back-to-back Ulsters are a decent team and they are at a high level, we want to see if we can bring them to a level beyond that because I think that is where they want to go, they want to go to a level beyond Ulster and we want to try and do what we can to show them that is possible,” he said.

 Once we get over the novelty of Harte with a Derry crest, it’s just the same old problems with any team.

Derry have a large number of players missing through injury, and club commitments with county champions Glen in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilmacud this Sunday.

One of the criticisms levelled at Derry over the last couple of years was the small size of their squad. It’s something Harte is aware of and is working towards. One of the plus points for him last night was the inclusion of four Steelstown Brian Ógs players in Diarmuid Baker, Ben McCarron, Donncha Gilmore and Cahir McMonagle.

Having so many Derry city players is unheard of, but Harte had links with the club before, as he explains.

“I’m delighted for them. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Steelstown Brian Óg club.

“I met that young man (Brian Óg McKeever was a Derry minor who passed away after a battle with cancer and the club was renamed in his honour) back in his last few days and a lovely fella. A lovely family. And it was great for those men from the Steelstown club that they could do him proud tonight.”

Asked if they trained much over Christmas, he enjoys a bit of semantics and wordplay with a grin not far away.

“We gave them off what we are supposed to give them off. And we trained the rest.”

Asked if Brendan Rogers – married on 27 December – hadn’t much of a honeymoon, Harte smiled, “A very short one.”

The honeymoon period for Derry and Harte, however, continues.

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