It’s been a long time since All-Ireland success for Tyrone. In recent years, things have looked a lot more like regress than progress. Is Harte’s time up?
2015 has been a mixed year so far for Tyrone football. This Saturday, the under 21’s face Tipperary in Parnell Park in the final of the under-21 Championship as the Red Hands go in search of their first All-Ireland win at that grade since 2001. The success of this side has come in contrast to that of the Senior side, with Mickey Harte’s side demoted from Division 1 after a League campaign that saw Tyrone pick up just one win from seven, receiving criticism of their style of play while doing so.
After relegation to Division 2, Harte spoke about the “very low” morale of the Tyrone team and in light of Tyrone’s early exit from the Championship last July after defeat to Armagh, and failure to win an Ulster Senior Football Championship since 2010, is it time for a new voice in Tyrone’s management to return the Red Hands to the glory days of the last decade?
Results alone don’t always provide a fair reflection of the performance of a team and a sweeping analysis of Tyrone’s position at the end of this year’s League campaign would draw an unfair conclusion. Tyrone drew by 0-17 to 1-14 in their final game against All-Ireland Champions Kerry in Omagh, a result which saw them relegated to Division 2, but a win that day would have been enough to have kept them in Division 1 at the expense of the Kingdom.
Mickey Harte’s side also drew with bottom side Derry and eventual League champions Dublin during their campaign, and lost by a point under controversial circumstances to Cork and while there’s no room for “could haves” in sport, Tyrone will definitely feel that they could have won all three games and kept themselves in the top tier of the League for 2016.
Throw in a 1-11 to 1-7 victory over Mayo in Castlebar and it would be easy to expect Tyrone to be challenging for an Ulster title again this year, right? Not quite. Tyrone may have been unlucky in some of their games this season, but the fact that the Red Hands have not won the Ulster Championship since 2010 and haven’t appeared in a final since then either speaks volumes.
A 1-13 to 0-9 loss to Monaghan in this year’s League was followed by a 1-13 to 0-6 loss against Donegal, where Tyrone registered just two points from play, and when you consider last summer’s qualifier defeat to an Armagh side now looking rejuvenated under the stewardship of Kieran McGeeney, it seems as though Tyrone have fallen behind their rivals in the last couple of years. Tyrone are a team that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere at the moment and the All Ireland wins of 2003,2005 and 2008 seem a distant memory.
So what next for Tyrone? Beating Donegal on May 17th and winning the Ulster Championship on May 17th would go a long way to restoring Tyrone as a force in football, but if the Red Hands fail to overcome the Tír Chonaill men again, then Mickey Harte’s role as manager of the side will start to come under scrutiny. No one can doubt the amount of success which Mickey Harte has brought since his appointment as Tyrone manager, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that Tyrone need to change something if they are to compete in Ulster again, not to mind for All-Irelands.
Tyrone’s system of football has depended a lot this year on Seán Cavanagh creating scores by winning ball in the full forward line, but with Cavanagh having undergone knee surgery recently, surely Tyrone need to begin blending youth with experience by integrating some players on the 21’s team into the senior side. Tyrone’s first All-Ireland success in 2003 came when young players such as Cavanagh and Cormac McAnallen were introduced to a team containing stars such as Peter Canavan and Brian Dooher. With the under-21 Championship finishing up this weekend, surely some of these players such as forward Lee Brennan and midfielder Cathal McShane must be brought in to freshen up the squad and allow Tyrone to compete against their Ulster rivals once again.