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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 19 January, 2020

Tyrone hopes, Connolly return, Harte influence and Mulligan's Dublin memories

All-Ireland winner Owen Mulligan will be a keen observer next Sunday.

IT’S BEEN SIX years since Tyrone last crossed paths on the championship stage with Dublin.

pjimage Owen Mulligan has plenty Dublin-Tyrone memories to draw upon. Source: INPHO

Owen Mulligan lined out that day as Diarmuid Connolly put on an exhibition of shooting as Dublin outclassed Tyrone.

Fast forward from the 2011 encounter and Mulligan is a keen observer as the counties renew acquaintances after a summer where his old manager Mickey Harte has generated success once more, Connolly has featured heavily on the Dublin agenda and Tyrone’s spirits have soared.

Five days out from throw-in at Croke Park, Mulligan spoke to The42.

Paddy Power GAA ambassador Owen Mulligan 1 Paddy Power GAA ambassador Owen Mulligan. Source: lorraineosullivan

1. The mood in Tyrone before facing the Dubs…

“(They’re) excited to be back where they belong. I was chatting to Mickey Harte in Monday at a Club Tyrone thing in London and he can’t wait to get at it. He’s excited.

“I think he has a team there and he has players there. It wasn’t too good in Tyrone the last few years but two back to back titles in Ulster was 100 per cent better, even though I think Ulster football is in decline at the minute and Tyrone are way ahead of everyone else.

“He certainly is confident going into the game and he’s relishing the challenge, and I think he has lifted the whole county as well.

“That’s what it’s all about in Tyrone, we’re a proud football county and we should be challenging at the top table every year.

Sean Cavanagh celebrates with Richael Donnelly after the game Sean Cavanagh and Richard Donnelly celebrating the win over Armagh. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I think that they’ll beat Dublin, so I do. Dublin are an exceptional outfit, they’re class and they always were this last few years.

“It’s a massive challenge but I think the tools are there to compete with Dublin and to get over the line.”

2. The return of Diarmuid Connolly…

“It’s a big call. I don’t think he’ll start but he’s massive player for Dublin. He’s top class, one of the best in the whole of Ireland but Tyrone will make sure they target him in their own way.

“He is still a young fella. He is in the prime of his GAA career. I think he will hit the ground running. I think it will give Dublin a lift and give the fans a lift.

Diarmuid Connolly speaks to linesman Ciaran Branagan Diarmuid Connolly during June's game against Carlow. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“You only have to look at his discipline record and I think Tyrone will pounce on that. They’ll definitely target it in the same way as we would have targeted.

“I read one of Alan Brogan’s articles where he said he hated Tyrone. He hated Tyrone because we targeted him. He was the best player on the field.

“And that’s the way it is now in Gaelic football. You target the best players, the score-getters and we targeted him over the years.

Alan Brogan with Conor Gormley and Ryan McMenamin Alan Brogan under pressure from Tyrone in 2005. Source: INPHO

“I’m not on for a man getting a box to the back of the head or a box to the back of the neck but you have to get up close and personal in championship games.

“That’s our take on it. That’s been the Tyrone way. There are boys there that can do that. I am not saying who is going to mark him. I’d like to see (Padraig) Hampsey on him so I would.

“Hampsey is a top class player. He’s a hardy boy now. He would have been a boxer in his day. I think he has a couple of Ulster titles.

“As I say, we don’t want that to get out onto the field. I think Connolly can handle himself as well.”

Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

3. No contract extension for Mickey Harte…

“I’m very surprised. He’s a ruthless man, and I know that first hand. He’s totally ruthless.

“But I think you have to respect a man like that. If you’re not doing the job, and I was never exempt either, so why not drop me, and why not drop the boys he has?

“He’s brought in other fellas there to do the job and that’s why he’s so respected. I think he deserves another couple of years contract, with the team he’s built there.

Mickey Harte celebrates with Peter Harte after the game Mickey Harte and Peter Harte after the All-Ireland quarter-final against Armagh. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“He’ll need another couple of years if they don’t get over the line this time. The supporters see it, I just don’t think the county board see it.

“I think it’s only a few on the county board who’ve got a gripe with him. I don’t know why. If Mickey Harte doesn’t get the job there will be every county having a look at him.

“Do us as Tyrone people want that, Mickey going to another county and seeing the experience he’ll give? They’ll be queuing up for him.”

4. Harte’s achievement in forming a new Tyrone team…

“Talking to him on Monday night, I’ve never heard him like that, even as a player. He can’t wait to get out on the field.

“I think some of the training they did, hearing different stories and still keeping in contact with ex players, some of the training they’re doing, it’s player driven.

“He said it’s the most committed bunch he’s ever managed and he looked at Peter Canavan and said that’s including Peter Canavan’s team. That was the team I was in and there was a few rule breakers, including myself!

“He said he doesn’t have to mention alcohol. Players are scared of falling behind other players if they go on the beer. He said they’re the most professional bunch he’s ever managed.

Mickey Harte speaks to his team after the game Mickey Harte speaks to his players after the win over Armagh. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Harte was always very good at reinventing himself. He’d always do different wee things and he was always good at that there but to bring another team through, that’s the sign of a massive manager.

“You don’t hear that in Gaelic football any more. You see it in soccer there with Wenger and stuff and you see what pressure he’s under now.

They’ve brought Peter Donnelly in from Cavan, he did a massive job there. You only have to look at the Tyrone players, the physique of the players – they’re like professional athletes, and that’s down to Mickey as well.”

5. The challenge posed by Dublin…

“I went to the Leinster final instead of the Ulster final and I saw kinks in their armour. I’d never seen teams go through Dublin through the middle but Kildare got through for a couple of chances.

“Only for (Stephen) Cluxton that day, they (Kildare) had two goal chances and it could have been massive. Okay, Jonny Cooper wasn’t playing that day and he’s a big asset, he’s an organiser as well as a marker.

Stephen Cluxton makes a save from the shot by Daniel Flynn Stephen Cluxton makes a crucial save in the Leinster final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“If you run at Dublin in years gone by they would have stopped you, they would have hunted in packs, I didn’t see that against Kildare.

“Tyrone would love to go forward like that. If they can keep the ball tight and the game tight I think they can get over the line.

“But it’s Dublin you’re talking about boys. They’re a different animal to the Ulster teams that Tyrone have played against.

“I think the Ulster teams lay down. I don’t think the Ulster teams had belief that they could beat Tyrone.”

6. Facing Dublin the favourite fixture…

“I just loved the whole hype, loved the whole playing in Croke Park, the whole Hill 16. I am a Liverpool fan so when I was younger, it was the Kop to me.

“If you are a player and you can’t get up for a Dublin game, you shouldn’t be playing the game. You are playing in the capital, it is a class fixture.

“But I have seen other players freeze, it is a big daunting place and if you miss a couple of shots in front of the Hill, they will soon let you know about it.

“But that is all a part of it. You either relish it and embrace it or you freeze and luckily enough, I used to relish the challenge.”

Owen Mulligan shoots to score a goal Owen Mulligan fires home a goal for Tyrone against Dublin in 2005. Source: INPHO

7. The football future in London…

“Are you having a laugh? No I only went in for a brief spell to help them training and the auld hunger got the better of me.

“The animal got the better of me and I thought I could work but I don’t think maybe it was a bridge too far. It was training Tuesday, Wednesday Friday and Sunday and my body couldn’t take it. It’s a professional sport now.

“I’m playing for Fulham Irish, I’m enjoying that now. They are a good set of lads and I’m happy to play club but county would be a bit too far.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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