Captain Harte as driven as ever

By Niall Gartland

BLITHELY describing Peter Harte as an ‘experienced footballer’ would be doing the man a considerable disservice.

Having made his senior debut with the county all the way back in February 2010, the Errigal Ciaran man is now on the cusp of his 15th uninterrupted Championship campaign with Tyrone – and it’s fair to say he’s packed a lot into his playing career.

Second only to Sean Cavanagh on the all-time appearance list with Tyrone, Harte stands alone as the county’s record goal-scorer with a whopping 36 goals (a statistic flagged up by County Board rep Eunan Lindsay last year), he’s won two All-Stars, four Ulster SFC titles and was a crucial component on the team that won the All-Ireland in 2021. Throw in an All-Ireland minor title and two O’Neill Cups into the mix as well – he’s not short of a medal or two.

Harte has been a reassuring presence on the Tyrone starting team for a generation at this stage, and his importance to the set-up – as if any more proof were needed – was underlined further by the decision to award him the captaincy this year.

Speaking earlier this week, Peter said that playing for Tyrone is an ‘honour’ in itself.

“[The captaincy] was a surprise surely, it wasn’t on my radar at all coming into the season. Just to be part of the group and playing for Tyrone is a brilliant honour in itself, and something I’ve really enjoyed doing over the years.

“All we want as a group is to try and put our best foot forward, to play our best for each other. If we can do that then hopefully it’ll stand us in good stead this weekend and further down the line.”

Harte reached the pinnacle of his intercounty career in 2021 as Tyrone conquered Mayo on All-Ireland final day.

His own personal mindset and motivation hasn’t really changed as a result of achieving the ultimate goal, but he still recognises that the last few years haven’t really gone according to plan for the team.

“From Mickey’s days back in 2010, it was trying to win the game and win the next competition and that’s what we’ve always been trying to do. Some days you get there and some days you don’t.

“The last few years haven’t been good enough and that’s probably the long and short of it. It’s about trying to improve this year, to be close and be tight, to win as many games as we can.

“We take each game as it comes now and the beauty of Ulster is that you can’t look far ahead at all because any of those teams can wipe you out as you’ve seen, there’s very little between each other in Ulster.”

Back in 2010, Harte was drafted into a Tyrone set-up where you couldn’t move for multiple All-Ireland winners. Now he’s one of the stalwarts tasked with showing the way to a younger generation, and he says that the new crop have been a hugely welcome addition.

“That’s one of the biggest things this year, we’ve introduced an awful lot of good personalities, you see that on and off the field. You’ve the likes of Niall Devlin who has been there a year or two, Seanie [O’Donnell], Ruairi [Canavan], Lorcan McGarrity, Conall Devlin, all those boys. Aidan Clarke is getting his first run at it this year too.

“The biggest thing that strikes me about all the boys is how much they want to learn and improve, the attitude they have and when you bring that into that panel it’s brilliant because that’s what you need – the selflessness the boys have and hopefully it bodes well for Tyrone’s future. They’re great lads and they’re easy to play with, they’re class footballers.”

Harte sat out Tyrone’s final two league games due to a calf injury, including a final-day thumping at the hands of the Dubs in Croke Park. It may have been a dead rubber tie from a Tyrone perspective, but they still forensically assessed where it all went wrong on a day where they conceded heavily at the back.

“There’s plenty of learnings in every game, it’s probably the best thing about Division One and why everyone wants to be there. You’re put to the pin of your collar every day out, some days it goes well and some it doesn’t, maybe the Dublin game was like that.

“Those top teams find out very quickly how to hurt you and Dublin are probably the best team at that. There was plenty for us to learn from that day and hopefully improve on, and plenty of boys got football, so hopefully it’ll help us coming into the Ulster Championship.”

Tyrone get their Ulster Championship campaign underway against Cavan in Kingspan Breffni this Sunday, and Harte knows that Raymond Galligan’s side will be in confident mood after swatting aside their age-old rivals Monaghan in the Preliminary Round.

“It’s a huge task, they were very impressive against Monaghan, they were full value for that win and in Division Two they played a lot of good football. Cavan probably had an off-day against Armagh, the same way we did against Dublin, but bar that they’ve played a lot of good football.

“They’ve unearthed a lot of other good footballers over the last few years as well so they’re going to be a serious task on Sunday and if we don’t play up to our standards we’ll be in big trouble.”

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that a certain Stephen O’Neill is part of Galligan’s set-up at Cavan. O’Neill was Tyrone’s forwards coach in 2018 and 2019 and Harte knows exactly what he brings to the table – and forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

“Stevie is one of the best forward coaches about, we loved him when he was in with Tyrone. He sees that game from the view of being a full-forward, where he wants the ball. You saw that when we were coached under Stevie, and even after that with Antrim, and you can see the same with Cavan now.

“He has a strong track record as a player and a coach and we know what he’ll bring to Cavan and from what I’ve heard already they really enjoy working with him and we’ll have to have our heads on or we’ll get picked apart by some of Stevie’s plays.”

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW