By Niall Gartland
MICKEY Harte has been synonymous with Tyrone football for decades so this week’s news that he’s crossing the frontier into Derry has come as a considerable surprise to many in the GAA world.
The appointment came very much out of the blue and prompted wholesale debate over the last few years – yes, Mickey Harte is the new Derry manager – and that’s without getting into the nitty gritty of the chain of events that saw him vacate the hotseat at Louth.
Aghaloo man Mickey Donnelly managed the Derry u-20s for a three-year period between 2018 and 2020. When he was brought on board, another Tyrone man, Brian McIver, was in position as the county’s Director of Football.
Then there’s the other Red Hand natives who were involved in recent years – Ciarán Meenagh, Peter Hughes and Hugh Gallagher – so it’s not as if it’s unheard of for Tyrone men to lend a neighbourly hand.
And Donnelly believes that ‘level-headed’ GAA people should try to understand why Harte has taken the plunge, instead of castigating him for linking up with the Oakleaf County.
“The GAA world can be very cynical and I know that first-hand, people can be very fickle.
“When you’re involved in football or hurling at a high level, you get better at shutting out noise. Mickey will pass no remarks on any criticism that comes his way, he’s well-adept at blanking that out, and I think real football people in Tyrone will wish him all the best – within reason of course, it’ll be a different matter if they come head-to-head in an Ulster Championship match.”
Donnelly continued: “You have to respect what the man has achieved. We hadn’t won a single All-Ireland at senior level before 2003, he also ended a long stint for the county at minor level as well.
“In my mind there’s no way the decision to join Derry didn’t cause him angst, he probably weighed up the pros and cons. He’s very driven and wants to be winning provincial titles and All-Irelands.
“While he did a great job at Louth, they were never going to land the big titles.
“Now with Derry there is a short window, this isn’t a long-term project, Derry want to be winning an All-Ireland in the here and now and Mickey will have full belief they can reach their goal under his management.”
Donnelly, who is now involved with Conor Laverty at Down, saw the work going on behind the scenes in Derry during his spell as u-20 manager.
“Brian McIver was Director of Football at the time and there was a real sense they were doing whatever it takes to turn things around.
“They bottomed out and ended up in Division Four, but they were doing the right things behind the scenes and now there’s a serious desire to take the next step and win an All-Ireland.
“I’m not sure how things panned out with Malachy O’Rourke but they obviously wanted someone with a proven track record so appointing Mickey isn’t as left-field as it first appears. The amount of managers out there who have won All-Irelands is a very shallow pool and Mickey has won them on multiple occasions.”