Mickey Harte-The Master of the Dark Arts

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by John O’Hara

Dark Arts of Tyrone

Mickey Harte is often cast as the quiet, brooding and intelligent man that commands the line for his native Tyrone. He is, for the most part, something of a media darling on this island, held up as an example to others, but it’s time for the media to take the blinkers off and expose the master of the dark arts for what he really is.

After a fairly comprehensive defeat at the hands of Donegal in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship, Tyrone now find themselves in an all-Ireland semi-final, with Donegal and Ulster champions, Monaghan twiddling their thumbs for the rest of the summer.

Tyrone’s route to the quarter-final went largely unnoticed but the same could not be said for their quarter final win against Monaghan, where their trademark ‘dark arts’ were taken to a whole new level, with diving, off the ball hits, attempts to get opposing players sent off and management involved in scuffles on the pitch. All of this is happening on Harte’s watch, but no one in the media is prepared to call him on it, pointing fingers at everyone but the man at the top.

The first instance on Saturday of the cynical tactics of the red hand men was when Connor Myler tried to fool Marty Duffy into giving Kieran Hughes a black card, but Duffy, to his credit, saw through this and realised that Myler had run at Hughes and tried to make it look like the Monaghan man had taken him down.

Highlights of the game did not centre on some of the fine scores from Mickey Harte’s men, but instead the debate raged on the sly punches from Ronan McNamee, the feigning of injury from McAliskey and Harte’s trusted lieutenant Sean Cavanagh. Justin McMahon did his best to cause a row at every possible opportunity, to slow the game down and ensure Monaghan could not gain any momentum in their fight back. But most of the ire was reserved for the disgraceful Tiarnan McCann, who got Darren Hughes sent off, after he took the most ridiculous dive ever witnessed in Croke Park. Hughes brushed his hand through McCann’s hair and he immediately dropped to the ground, writhing in agony, as if shot by a sniper on the roof.

Colm O’Rourke, commenting on the Sunday Game, said that these type of tactics are, ‘following Tyrone around like a bad smell, before adding that Saturday’s game was ‘a new low for Tyrone GAA,’ Fellow analyst, former Dublin midfielder, Ciaran Whelan claimed that Tyrone were ‘letting themselves down,’ with this disgraceful behaviour. O’Rourke went as far to say that Tyrone players and management, who were also involved in scuffles, should be brought before the CCC for bringing the game into disrepute, in order to eradicate this behaviour.

It should also be noted that this is becoming a recurring theme when discussing Tyrone GAA. At the beginning of the summer, there were allegations that a Tyrone minor player taunted a Donegal minor over the death of his father, while in the senior game, Justin McMahon did his best Connor McGregor impersonation for seventy minutes, wrestling Michael Murphy to the ground at every opportunity. Luckily, football was the winner that day, when Murphy proved unstoppable with some exquisite free-kicks, but now that Tyrone are in the last four, it leaves a sour taste that cynical tactics are rewarded with success.

Even Tyrone’s U-21 all-Ireland win was mired in controversy, when the Tipperary manager refused the Tyrone manager entry to the losing dressing room, such was the level of verbal abuse his players had received on the field. He was taking a stand against this type of behaviour and wanted the world to know just exactly what went on during the match.

Back to yesterday’s game. Yes, Tyrone deserve credit for getting to an all-Ireland semi-final, after their preliminary round exit, but they have to be held to account for their actions and that includes the man at the top, Mickey Harte.

Mickey Harte, despite his saint-like caricature in the media, both north and south, has developed a culture of cynicism in Tyrone GAA that is taken onto the pitch via his right hand man, Sean Cavanagh, who seems to revel in this type of behaviour. Harte has cultivated a ‘them versus us’ attitude within Tyrone GAA and players seem willing to do anything they can to win a match, whether it is get a player sent off, feigning injury to waste time or take out an opposition player, who is deemed dangerous. The buck stops with Harte, if he really was ashamed of this type of behaviour, he would stamp it out, but in truth, it seems as if he encourages it. There is little evidence of this in truth, but there’s even less evidence of him condemning anyone who uses these tactics.

All of this is in stark contrast to the media portrayal of Jim McGuinness, following Donegal’s successful four year spell under his reign. McGuinness was painted as the pantomime villain who was out to destroy the GAA, with his negative tactics and blanket defence. Commentators were queuing up to take a pop at him and few were willing to give him any credit, especially in 2011, after the infamous semi-final with Dublin. I’m not suggesting McGuinness was an angel in terms of cynical tactics but at least the media called him on it, unlike the kid gloves they use when dealing with Mickey Harte.

It will be interesting to see if the GAA take any action against Tyrone, whose management were once again involved in scuffles on the side-line, replicating the behaviour of their management in Ballybofey at the beginning of the Championship season. Hopefully they will and Tiarnan McCann must not go unpunished or the GAA will be sending a very dangerous message to its players, who will think this type of behaviour is acceptable.

And in Tyrone, unless someone like Harte has the courage to stand up for the principles of the game, any success that is achieved the county will be tainted by the reputation their teams have for cynicism and cheating. But until the media starts asking the hard questions, Harte will continue to do nothing and we will see more of the same. It’s hypocrisy at its worst.


10 thoughts on “Mickey Harte-The Master of the Dark Arts

  1. Oh good god, where do you begin. “After a fairly comprehensive defeat at the hands of Donegal”. What match were you at? Donegal got off to a great start where Tyrone came back to take the lead and were unlucky not to get something out of the game! In the same match McMahon was man marking Murphy and held him scoreless from play! He did score some wonderful frees that day and fair dues! I think you need to watch Mcgee in that match (in any match for that matter), there wasnt a word spoken about his dragging and pulling to the ground (and also in the ulster final on McManus)
    As for the Conor Meyler incident, i think you need to take your RTE blinkers off and look at that again. Look at the way Hughes jumped into Meylers path after he had released the ball with his hands spread like an eagle. Meyler could do nothing to get out of the way. Look at Hughes reaction after the incident, smiling as if he got away with it (as he did and on numerous other occasions as well)
    His name is Sean Cavanagh by the way not Kavanagh. One of the best midfielders/forwards in the last 30 years who got hit off the ball on every occasion during the match against Monaghan ( singled out in most matches) . He may win some frees but any good player in any county will do that, and to single one man out time and time again is just lazy , follow the rte rhetoric journalism.
    It is plainly obvious that the fact Tyrone have gone further in the competition than Donegal is hurting and I believe that it has hindered your view to Tyrone, I am not saying they are angels (I don’t think any good county team are angels when going for the big prize) but I am saying that anything they do is completely blown out or proportion especially by the native broadcaster. It was set up last night on the Sunday Game for O’Rourke and “the clean as a whistle” Whelan to take Tyrone to the cleaners in there summation and turn public opinion against them.
    As a fellow Ulster county I would expect more from the Tir Chonaill view in posting such an article.


    1. I have watched the Meyler incident and I agree with the ref’s decision. He ran at Hughes and tried to make it look like Hughes brought him down, trying to get him booked or black carded. He could have easily side stepped him, but he didn’t.
      Look at McAliskey, lay on the ground feigning injury, and when he realised the ref wasn’t going to stop the game, he got up and sprinted for a pass.
      Yes, McMahon kept Murphy scoreless from play, so too could most wrestlers, if the rules were applied so liberally as they were that day in Ballybofey.
      As for Sean Cavanagh, as Joe Brolly says, the invisible man’s vendetta against him is getting worse, especially around the scoring area and as for the hits he received off the ball, perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that he is in the middle of every row or confrontation going, continually ragging opposing players.
      BUt the actions of McCann were undoubtedly the worst on Saturday and anyone who tries to defend that needs to get their blinkers off.
      As for Donegal being bitter, we’re not at all. We were well beaten by a very good Mayo side, who played some great football and combined that with high intensity tackling. We’ll regroup and come back again next year. It’s not bitterness that’s causing the highlighting of this vile behaviour of Tyrone, it’s just common sense.


  2. Dry your eyes, Donegal supporters have a short memory when their style of blanket defence was ridiculed by the same biased pundits.
    Colm O’Rourke a Meath man whose County cynically targeted Canavan and Dooher in All Ireland Semi Final in 96 where Tyrone were laughed at for being too soft, and Whelan of Dublin? No angel in his playing days either.
    What Mc Cann done was wrong and embarrassing but the game was long over at that stage and had no bearing on the outcome, Monaghan were just as guilty of fouling but there was no emphasis on that at all.
    Fact is Tyrone were the better team and deserved their win, Donegal were beat and deservedly so now get behind Ulster’s representative’s instead of sour grapes or is it Jealousy?


    1. There’s a difference in a blanket defence and the type of antics Tyrone engaged in last weekend.
      All counties, from time to time are guilty of cynical fouling and play acting. The premise of my article is that Mickey Harte gets off lightly when it is all happening on his watch. I never disputed that Donegal were beaten by a better team because it was clear that they were. Tyrone may have deserved their win but a shadow hangs over the game and it will result in referees going against you in fifty/fifty decisions.


  3. This is obviously a wind up. No one could actually take time to write all this and actually believe it. Tyrone have been blamed for a lot of things and have been pulled through the gutter by the Southern media in recent years but as with many successful teams they have to play the game from both sides of the White line. Mickey Harte is one of the most successful managers in modern day GAA and this idea that they have dragged game into a defensive charade is laughable. The last 2 all Ireland finals they scored 1-15 and 1-16 against Great Kerry teams. The day GAA football was really dragged to the ground was August 2011, when the great Donegal held Dublin to 0-08 in Croke park,, only problem was their 1 player who wasn’t camped on their own 13 yard line could only score 0-06.
    Let’s not talk about players punching opponents in the back off the head, or the cynical fouls before 60 minutes or the incident that lead up to Darran Hughes when he launched himself at mid rift of an opponent. Tyrone did not cover themselves in glory on Saturday but there was another team playing that same match that ended up with 13 players at the end. Tyrone did a job and scored 18 points on the day. I don’t believe Donegal have
    managed 18 scores in 1 match in the whole of 2015.
    Let’s leave the biased anti northern football analysis to the men in RTE that have actually kicked a size 5 in their life and who have earned the right to talk rubbish for a living. You my friend should stick on your 2012 DVD and Jimmys winning matches cd as this is as close as Donegal will get to another All Ireland in the next 10 years!


    1. Not once in the article did I comment on Tyrone’s defensive tactics. Being defensive is not a crime against the sport, although few believed this when Jim and his men were vilified in the media in 2011.
      What my article was about, and was inspired by the sheer volume of people commenting on how ridiculously Tyrone behaved on Saturday.
      Yes, Monaghan have been noted for their cynical style of play, but it was nothing compared to Tyrone. Myler was rightly given a black card, as he tried to con the ref into giving Hughes one. McCann’s behaviour is indefensible, even the most stubborn red hander can admit that. Sean Cavanagh falls to the ground at such an alarming rate, I think he may be suffering from vertigo.
      You can slag all you want about Donegal, but the whole country is talking about the disgraceful way your team plays and as for the anti-northern element, you lot across the border are just paranoid. If anyone had behaved like that, it would have been highlighted on the Sunday Game. If you want to win like that, be prepared for the analysis afterwards and it won’t be positive. Oh and Brolly is from Dungiven, he was fairly sure where he stood on the matter.


  4. Brolly the court Jester! Before Tyrone won their first All Ireland in 03 Brolly ridiculed Tyrone at every oppotunity, remember him laughing at Tyrone after their defeat to Sligo in 2002 saying Tyrone women needed to breed with Sligo Men!
    Of course he then became Tyrone’s biggest cheer leader after 03 knowing full well that Tyrone team were going to be around for a while, as soon as Tyrone were on the slide he reverted to type again, I personally think he has never forgiven Tyrone for beating the well fancied Derry in 1995 when Tyrone beat Derry with only 13 men.


  5. There is no point bitching about managers or players. They all take advantage of bad refereeing and lack of technology.
    A video ref and instant replay on the big screen would eliminate all the dirt and dramatics as it did in Rugby.
    The players would soon learn that decisions could then go against them.
    Thank God the Rugby has started again and I don’t have to watch any more of that crap!!


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