2021 All-Ireland win masked the loss of Mickey Harte to this Tyrone team
Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone.
Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan successfully guided Tyrone to All-Ireland glory in 2021, but this triumph may have masked the loss of Mickey Harte and his impact on this team.
Let's get this straight; it was the right time for Harte to leave - after 17 years of incredible service, the need for freshness and change was apparent, and his successors were clearly the right men for the job.
However, due to the instant success of Dooher and Logan, Tyrone practically skipped the transition phase of new management, especially one that was as engrained and structurally integral to the success of the county.
Harte led the white and red army to their first All-Ireland success in 2003, and repeated the feat in '05 and '08 to cement his place as the county's greatest ever manager, period.
The most impressive element of Harte's tenure though, wasn't the silverware or history-making victories of Kerry and Armagh, but the way that he created a cultural identity that stood the test of time.
Before the Errigal Ciaran man took charge, no one in Kerry, Dublin or the south really had much to say about Tyrone - they were almost an irrelevance.
Now if you mention the 'T word' in The Kingdom, especially to those who were there to watch the teams of the noughties in person, it sparks a cocktail of emotions in them.
Let's be honest, one of those feelings is usually distaste, a genuine hatred of of a tough team who came from nowhere to shake up the game, but it's usually followed by an admission of respect, and genuine awe of a great side that brought a new definition to the word "intensity".
From 2003 onwards, Tyrone have become one of the most hated and feared, but resected teams in the country, and even when the golden generation began to fade into retirement, and the tricky test of transition was put to Harte, it's hard to argue that he didn't pass it with flying colours.
There is a common perception that Harte was stuck in the 'old ways' and refused to change even slightly during his long reign, but when you look at the drastic evolution of football caused by Jim McGuinness' Donegal, and then the unprecedented dominance of Dublin, the fact that Tyrone were still always competing, still winning Ulster titles and reaching the latter stages of the All-Ireland competition, showed how he was able to react and adapt.
Of course the fundamentals of his principals were still the same; he didn't believe that forwards needed to win their own ball, he believed that the first defender was the corner forward, and that the most precious thing you can have is the ball itself, so giving it away - even for an attempted pass - was criminal, resulting in a more pragmatic style of football that didn't always entertain.
As @TyroneGAALive and @Kerry_Official meet this weekend at @CrokePark; GAANOW Rewind takes a look back to when the pair met in the 2003 All Ireland Senior Football Semi-Final! Tyrone then went on to lift the Sam Maguire Cup for their first time, do you remember this? pic.twitter.com/IsBQ8k9QDN
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 6, 2019
Above everything else though, Harte believed in work rate. That seems stupidly obvious, and something that every coach would prioritise, but the three time All-Ireland-winning manager had a very clear and exact definition of it.
The clip of Tyrone stars bullying Kerry in 2003 goes viral on Twitter every couple of years, and the manic, demonic and almost insane level of determination in the eyes and behaviour of the players is quite frightening.
Even when the blockbuster names like Peter Canavan, Owen Mulligan, Stephen O'Neill and Dooher retired, and different names occupied the team sheet, that ravenous hunger never changed.
Harte was the master of motivation, and was forever experimenting with new methods to get his players to buy in, and dig deep for a cause bigger than themselves.
The now-Louth boss once made the lads change their jerseys at half time after being hammered by Kerry in the league, in order to symbolise a new start in the game and to get out of the negative mindset that the first half created - they ended up clawing it back to a draw.
In his latter years, when those on the outside assumed he didn't know how to motivate a younger crop, he got every person in the squad to bring a chunk of grass from their club pitch, put it in a bag, and before the game he handed out the blades of green for players to put in their boots, so they would always be playing on Tyrone soil.
Disregard it as nonsense, roll your eyes at the idea, or just put it down as being plain cheesy, but the point is, he never stopped trying new ways to bring out that inner demon in his players, and even when the talent that was once at his disposal was no longer available to him, he still managed to muster up something in them.
Sean Cavanagh said on The Sunday Game after his former team's passive defeat to Mayo that intensity and work rate was the "bare minimum" you should expect from a Tyrone player, and it just wasn't there.
That DNA of grit, and 'do or die' attitude was still at the heart of the players who won the 2021 All-Ireland title, but thanks to the guidance, freshness and innovative measures taken by Dooher and Logan, they were able to add to it and break the Dublin-monopoly of the previous six years.
However, as we get further and further away from Harte's last team speech, last motivational technique, and last attempt to stir something special within his county's representatives, it looks like that foundation of grit, built over the course of two decades, is beginning to crack.
Look at how Louth managed to dig deep last weekend against Meath when the odds were against them. The Wee County have currently made the jump from Division Four to Division Two, and unless his former team manage to get their house in order, they will soon be in the same league as their ex-boss.
Kerry come to Healy Park this Sunday in a game that has the odds stacked convincingly in favour of the current champions, and it looks like an almost impossible task for Tyrone to conquer.
However, that would be exactly the situation when this team would have risen to the occasion in the past, and they can do it again.
All they need is a bit of Harte.
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