The Gaelic football manager who led Tyrone to All Ireland glory
Born in Ballygawley, Co Tyrone in 1952, Mickey Harte’s enthusiasm for Gaelic Football was evident from his days as a pupil in Omagh Christian Brothers School where he represented his school in Ulster Colleges tournaments.
He played at underage level with his local club Ballygawley St Ciarans, and at university level with St Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Belfast. From the years 1975 to 1982, Harte played for the Tyrone senior Gaelic Football team and was an integral member of the side who were unfortunate to lose one of the best Ulster finals in the past 30 years, in 1980, by 4-10 to 4-7 to neighbours Armagh.
Harte continued to play for his club team until his retirement from the game in 1985. It was then that he first became involved in managing school and youth teams in his local area. Success was almost instant. Victories in Tyrone and Ulster school competitions became commonplace for Ballygawley teams under Harte’s guidance, which alerted the Tyrone county committee to his managerial talents.
Tyrone minor success
He was appointed Tyrone minor manager in 1991 and the same year took the team to the brink of success, narrowly losing to Donegal by the scoreline of 1-10 to 1-9. The Tyrone county committee had confidence in Harte’s abilities working with the top youth Gaelic footballers in the county, and Harte continued in his dual role of teacher and football coach.
This paid dividends in July 1993 when Tyrone annexed their first Ulster minor championship since 1988. They defeated Derry in the final by 1-9 to 1-5 despite terrible weather conditions in Clones. Unfortunately Tyrone was heavily defeated by Meath in the All Ireland semi-final that year.
Having won an Ulster title, Harte’s goal had now altered significantly – he craved an All Ireland minor title with Tyrone. Barren years followed between 1994-6, but 1997 was a year that looked that the breakthrough might arrive for Harte’s team. The preliminary round game between Tyrone and Armagh brought victory for Tyrone but at a serious cost. Tyrone player Paul McGirr from the Dromore club sustained a fatal injury during the game, and died on the way to hospital.
Mickey Harte used his skills as a manager, teacher and mentor to galvanise the Tyrone squad, and vowed to win the All Ireland for Paul’s memory. Important victories were achieved over Antrim and Kerry, setting up a showdown with Laois in the final.
Inspired by the sublime talents of Brian McDonald, Laois proved much too strong. Tyrone were getting closer to the top prize and were not to be denied the following year, winning the Tom Markham cup and ironically overcoming Laois in the final on a scoreline of 2-11 to 0-11. Goals scored by Eoin Mulligan and Enda McGinley proved decisive.
More underage achievements
Harte was then given the opportunity in 2000 to manage the Tyrone under 21 team. His son Mark played on the team in the corner forward position, and along with other influential figures such as Cormac McAnallen and Kevin Hughes helped Tyrone defeat Limerick in the All Ireland final that year by 3-12 to 0-13.
Tyrone retained the under 21 Clarke cup in October 2001, defeating Mayo in the final. They were cruelly denied three titles in a row a year later by a physically stronger Dublin team. The incredible success of Harte’s Tyrone underage teams made it almost a formality for the Tyrone GAA committee to appoint Harte as Tyrone senior manager following the departure of Art McRory and Eugene McKenna.
A chance with the senior team
Mickey Harte’s goal for the Tyrone senior team in his debut season in 2003 was to win every trophy available to them. The team had a successful start in April when they regained the National Football League title defeating Laois in the final.
The Ulster championship campaign that year was exciting, with Tyrone almost defeated by underdogs Derry in the preliminary round and Down in the final. Tyrone needed replays to overcome both, and inspired by the mercurial talents of Peter Canavan, Tyrone won the Ulster championship title to book their place in the All Ireland series.
An easy victory against Fermanagh in the quarter final was followed by a tense semi final against the Munster champions Kerry. Despite losing Peter Canavan to injury midway through the first half of the game, Harte made tactical changes in the game which resulted in Tyrone dominating the second half and winning on a scoreline of 0-13 to 0-6.
Harte’s crowning glory in 2003
Mickey Harte was only one game away from reaching his ultimate goal – managing a Tyrone senior team to All Ireland victory. Tyrone had never won the Sam Maguire cup before and fate ensured that they met northern neighbours and holders of the trophy, Armagh in the final. As a manager Harte had a difficult task trying to keep his players focused on the game. The build up to the game witnessed amazing hype and media attention due to the tight games between the two in recent history.
The final itself was as expected, a tense affair between two close rivals. Tyrone had the best of the first half, leading by three points at half-time. Armagh narrowed the gap at the beginning of the second half, but Tyrone got into their stride and won by 0-12 to 0-9.
It was the crowning glory of Mickey Harte’s managerial career. It was the ultimate victory for him in over ten years of managing Tyrone teams. Mickey had reached his goals for 2003, and above all he fulfilled the ambitions of everyone who supported the Tyrone team by leading the senior team to All Ireland glory.
By Cathal Coyle