‘We never made a cru­sade it and nei­ther did Mickey Harte’

In this ex­tract from his book on the Ul­ster cham­pi­onship, De­clan Bogue re­vis­its a hard sea­son for Ty­rone

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES / FORMULA ONE -

WITHIN the Ty­rone squad they call it ‘The Talk.' It nor­mally comes just be­fore you take the field for a Thurs­day night train­ing ses­sion, when Mickey Harte ap­proaches and re­quests a quiet word.

It wasn't wholly un­ex­pected for Ryan Mc­me­namin in the lead up to the All-ire­land quar­ter-fi­nal against Dublin. He had been taken off in the pre­vi­ous two games against Ar­magh and Roscom­mon.

“When you've been around as long as I have, you sense these things. It wasn't too big a shock when he told me. He apol­o­gised, he said he didn't want to do it, but he had to do it for the good of the team.”

Harte pa­tiently ex­plained that with the height of the Dublin at­tack, he felt he needed the pres­ence of Justin Mcma­hon at the edge of the square. Mc­me­namin re­sponded, say­ing he un­der­stood where Harte was com­ing from. This would be Harte's 55th cham­pi­onship game in charge of Ty­rone and Mc­me­namin had been vir­tu­ally ever-present. Such a de­mo­tion could put a player off through the ses­sion that would fol­low but not Mc­me­namin.

“It was Mickey's call and I have noth­ing but the ut­most of re­spect for him. Of course you're an­noyed you're not start­ing, but I'm a firm believer that the man­ager is the boss. If I started ques­tion­ing why he was drop­ping me, it could have had a rip­ple ef­fect through the squad.

“I was think­ing of the big­ger pic­ture. I could have thrown the head and not done the train­ing af­ter he'd told me, but at the end of the day, I'm not go­ing to ques­tion Mickey Harte. If I got dropped for Dro­more or taken off for Dro­more, I wouldn't ques­tion Paul Mciver [Dro­more man­ager]. Train­ing wasn't the place to ques­tion him ei­ther. Mickey's open enough that you can give him a call and he would al­ways tell you where you're go­ing wrong or right.”

One of Mc­me­namin's great­est qual­i­ties has been his un­flinch­ing de­sire to play for Ty­rone. Now that his start­ing jersey was taken away, he also dis­played ad­mirable ma­tu­rity and loy­alty to Harte.

His house is be­ing built but more than once his fa­ther John and cousin Kevin Don­nelly have chased him off the site and away to train­ing. Then there's the up­com­ing wed­ding to Maura in De­cem­ber in Bally­bofey. There are other places he could be and other things he could be do­ing but Mc­me­namin is happy to make the sac­ri­fice for the sake of Ty­rone and their man­ager.

“If I was dropped and started throw­ing the head, then you're throw­ing away all the loy­alty that Mickey showed to me. You have to weigh up the two things — he's been loyal to me so I have to be loyal back to him.”

Oth­ers weren't so pa­tient or as con­tent. Dur­ing the league, Philip Jor­dan skipped a night's train­ing. He wasn't en­joy­ing it and wanted some time out, but it broke in the news­pa­pers and be­came a story. Af­ter a talk with the man­ager, Jor­dan came back into the fold.

Dur­ing the cham­pi­onship then, Owen Mul­li­gan took a spell away. There was an at­tempt to cover up the sit­u­a­tion but the per­ils of so­cial me­dia caught up with him when a pho­to­graph of him par­ty­ing hard mid-cham­pi­onship in a lo­cal night­club was posted on a Face­book page.

He too was coaxed back. When he re­turned, Mc­me­namin tore him to bits in the dress­ing room ban­ter stakes. “I reckon it was a call for help and I said I would get him back on the straight and nar­row. Hub [Kevin Hughes] reck­oned that he had no steady girl­friend and he needed to set­tle down, so he's go­ing to come in and live with me for a while.”

Af­ter con­tem­plat­ing the sit­u­a­tion, Joe Mcma­hon be­gan com­par­ing the pos­si­ble sce­nario with the film You, Me and Dupree, where Owen Wilson plays a goose­berry friend of Matt Dil­lon who spoils the glow of newly-mar­ried life with his wife, played by Kate Hud­son. With Mul­li­gan grow­ing his hair out and keep­ing it dyed a Cal­i­for­nian blond, it was the per­fect fit. For a few weeks he be­came known as noth­ing but Dupree.

Frus­trated by his lack of op­por­tu­nity, young Niall Mckenna also quit be­fore re­turn­ing. The older hands ribbed him about not milk­ing it like Dupree had.

With all the tem­po­rary re­tire­ments, it be­came a topic of fun rather than some­thing to fret about. “It's been event­ful with all the boys com­ing and leav­ing, it's given us plenty of crack. We're ac­tu­ally tak­ing bets on who's leav­ing this week, and if Mickey Moy­nagh [team lo­gis­tics man] left, you get all bets re­funded, like a Paddy Power spe­cial.”

And yet, for all that, they were con­vinced they were on the right path. The Thurs­day night be­fore they played Ar­magh, they per­formed a fa­mil­iar hand­pass­ing drill de­vised by trainer Fer­gal Mc­cann. The most passes they had man­aged in the al­lot­ted time was around the mid40s; this time they broke the 50 mark. The prospect of Ar­magh com­ing to town had elec­tri­fied them. Af­ter an ini­tial spell of dis­com­fort, they slapped Ar­magh to the ground and kept a knee on their backs.

The show rolled on to­wards Croke Park and they stayed overnight in fa­mil­iar haunt, Car­ton House. Tom Her­ron is a new ad­di­tion to the back­room team this year whose main role is en­cour­ag­ing new breath­ing tech­niques through the nose, but he's also be­come a ful­crum of jovi­al­ity. When he va­cated his room be­fore the Roscom­mon game, some un­named play­ers crept in with a pair of scis­sors and made rib­bons out of his jacket. He was left with not much more than a body warmer.

Be­fore match­day, they were re­minded of their hor­rific re­cent past. Ty­rone were back in Croke Park, big news again. RTÉ would want to talk to Mickey Harte af­ter the game but he would refuse to do so. The es­ca­la­tion of the dis­pute was as un­seemly as it was avoid­able. Af­ter his ini­tial protest fol­low­ing the Mon­aghan game at the per­ceived treat­ment the national broad­caster had in­flicted upon his per­sonal friend Brian Carthy, the fol­low­ing morn­ing's John Murray Show fea­tured a crass sketch us­ing voice record­ings of Harte, and fin­ished up by play­ing Pretty Lit­tle Girl From Omagh. Given the re­cent per­sonal his­tory of the Harte fam­ily, it dis­turbed many that such crude humour could be passed as fit broad­cast.

Harte spoke to his play­ers be­fore they trav­elled to Croke Park, ex­plain­ing his stance and that he would not be speak­ing to any ra­dio or tele­vi­sion from RTÉ and asked his play­ers not to ei­ther. That was fine by Mc­me­namin.

“Even with RTE Ra­dio, he asked us not to. We backed him 100 per­cent. In our eyes it [the Murray Show skit] was taste­less. Once you start go­ing into his life and tak­ing things out of it, es­pe­cially af­ter the six or seven months that he's had, boys need to take a good look at them­selves.”

Ty­rone beat Roscom­mon, need­ing Seán Ca­vanagh to evoke mem­o­ries of Jack O'shea with a pow­er­ful run and goal in the first half to keep them at bay.

Se­nan Kil­bride and Donie Shine served no­tice that Ty­rone were por­ous in de­fence and Cathal Cregg caused Mc­me­namin enough bother for him to be sub­sti­tuted.

Ty­rone though felt they had only a few glitches in the sys­tem.

Then along came the Dubs.

for JUST like that, it was fin­ished. Mc­me­namin had to watch the en­tire episode un­fold as Diar­muid Con­nolly had a ca­reer-defin­ing game and Ty­rone were oblit­er­ated all over the park. Dublin missed a stream of goal chances in the sec­ond half, kick­ing in to­wards Hill 16 where the blue hordes were bay­ing for blood. For them, this was pay­back for 2008 when the score­board read Dublin 1-8, Ty­rone 3-14. The end wasn't quite as grue­some for Ty­rone as it could have been. War­riors like Conor Gorm­ley, Brian Dooher and Stephen O'neill kept push­ing to the last and kept the score­line rea­son­ably re­spectable but it was still a bit­ter end.

Back in the dress­ing room there was the re­al­i­sa­tion that this time, they were nowhere near what was re­quired. They had looked at cham­pi­onship de­feats in the last three years against Cork, Dublin and Done­gal and placed their tally of wides on the scales against the mar­gin of de­feat.

Each time, they came away feel­ing that if they had shown a lit­tle bit more com­po­sure they would have tipped the bal­ance. They couldn't wrap them­selves in that com­fort. Not now.

As they sat in the cool dress­ing room with steam ris­ing from their bod­ies, there was also ‘that other thing': the un­said pact be­tween the play­ers and back­room that Mickey Harte had given so much to them and now they wanted to win some­thing back for him. For Michaela. Now that chance was gone.

“It was tough but we never made a cru­sade of it and Mickey never made a cru­sade of it that this is what we had to do.

“Just the boys put the head down and once we didn't do it, all the play­ers felt bad. We wanted to do some­thing for him.

“When you get beat in any cham­pi­onship game, you're gut­ted. With what we wanted to achieve for Mickey, it was ten times worse. There were a lot of sad men in the chang­ing rooms.

“Mickey left us for a while to let it sink in a bit. But then he came in and ad­dressed us, spoke well, say­ing it wasn't the plan and that you never know what could hap­pen next year. He thanked us for our ef­fort through the year, but at the end of the day we came up short.”

For the first time un­der Mickey Harte, Ty­rone had been played off the park in a cham­pi­onship match. For such a proud side, it cut deep. County chair­man Ciarán Mclaugh­lin spoke in the dress­ing room.

He asked any­one con­sid­er­ing re­tire­ment to give it a lot of thought and to speak to Mickey be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sions. They were to do it the right way; as Mclaugh­lin called it, “the Ty­rone way”.

Mc­me­namin hadn't seen de­feat com­ing at all.

“Go­ing down, I thought we def­i­nitely had a good chance of beat­ing them. I thought it was go­ing to be a close match but in fair­ness to Dublin their game-plan worked well, they got bod­ies back into the de­fence, they had a lot of space for the Bro­gans and Con­nolly to cause dam­age. Every­thing went right for them on the day.”

That evening, Mc­me­namin and Peter Harte ex­ited the sta­dium to­gether, two mem­bers of Ty­rone's present but whose ca­reers span dif­fer­ent eras. Harte was meet­ing his fam­ily while Mc­me­namin was meet­ing his soon-to-be wife.

They met up with an­other cou­ple and went for a few drinks in Gill's be­fore con­tin­u­ing on to Mc­gowan's in Phib­s­boro. A few Dubs sup­port­ers called over to him and he had a bit of crack with them.

“I sup­pose it's the best thing to do when you're beaten by the bet­ter team. You have to be gra­cious about it. They were real foot­ball peo­ple.”

Now, a re­build­ing job awaits Ty­rone.

the The ex­tract above is from This Is Our Year by De­clan Bogue, pub­lished by Ball­point Press and avail­able for €14.99 (£12.99)

‘Mickey Harte had given so much to them and now they wanted to win some­thing back for him. For Michaela. Now that chance was gone.’ Photo: Daire Bren­nan

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