THE INSIDE STORY OF MICKEY HARTE'S YEAR IN DERRY AND ULTIMATE RESIGNATION

IT WAS, BY ANY stretch, a classy exit.

Mickey Harte thanked the county board of Derry, he thanked Gavin Devlin for all his help, and he thanked the Derry players, wishing him all the best in their future endeavours.

There is an old saying that the definition of class is to be at the head of a posse chasing you out of town, and make it look as if you are leading a parade.

It wasn’t quite like this, but it was clear that Mickey Harte was going. He had no choice in the matter. All that was left to do was leave with pride and dignity intact.

When players do not have faith in a management team, there is nowhere to go. A few managers have attempted to ride out a storm, such as Gerald McCarthy in Cork and Justin McCarthy while in charge of Limerick.

Those situations festered because of county boards not living in reality. Derry don’t suffer that. They were decisive – ruthless, even – in going out and recruiting Harte. They were the same in bringing the project to a close.

There will be a few that will carry regrets at how it worked out. Veteran back Chrissy McKaigue carries considerable influence in the group and in his spare time from playing county football for Derry and football and hurling for Slaughtneil, he is also an assistant to Gavin Devlin at his Ardboe club.

During Donegal’s win over Tyrone in the Ulster semi final, McKaigue and Devlin were pictured on the roof of the control tower at Celtic Park, watching the match from that vantage point. Their relationship is tighter than the conventional player-coach one.

And really, this entire project was less about Mickey Harte and more about Gavin Devlin. Anyone who understands what truly happens in an intercounty team would grasp that.

Harte was a figurehead. He was an overseer. Ultimately, the football decisions fell to him on the sideline.

But the real influence is the man driving the training sessions and coaching them to play a certain style.

In Rory Gallagher, Derry had both all rolled into one. It also became apparent that he had formed deep personal ties with the vast majority of the panel.

Advertisement

The more austere, remote approach of Harte makes this process less natural.

While Devlin has been hailed as a great coach by more than just Harte at the launch of the Ulster championship, they fell down in two key areas; they failed to successfully integrate the strength and conditioning element into their gameplan, and the gameplan itself deviated too much from the one that served the same group so well under Gallagher.

Now, luck plays a part. Under Gallagher, they had Peter Hughes, a former Tyrone footballer coaching their strength and conditioning work. At the end of the 2023 season, he took up an offer to do the same job for the All Blacks 7s side, which can be taken as a measure of his ability.

Many will ask why that is, given Derry’s league run and their superb performance in the National League final, won eventually on penalties against Dublin and leading many to push them into the top tier of All Ireland contenders.

A criticism levelled at Gallagher was that his Derry squad lacked the depth to challenge for Sam Maguire. Harte attempted to address that and cast the net around to give 37 players gametime, but with injuries and drop offs, he ended up in pretty much the same space, only with one of the weakest looking benches in years with the number of injuries sustained including Eoin McEvoy, Gareth McKinless and Padraig McGrogan.

For some, this feels like the closing of a bizarre chapter of Derry football history. It is however, coloured by the hysterical reaction from day one.

Derry had no manager. They could not have foreseen the events around the departure of Rory Gallagher.

Once his temporary successor Ciaran Meenagh withdrew his candidacy, they pursued one criteria – serving managers who had won an All Ireland title. Harte wasn’t first choice, but he met the requirements of the role.

While Harte taking on Louth was a surprise, this was more than that. But the fluffing up of some bitter and toxic rivalry and the personal abuse that came the way of the Derry county board and Harte in particular, was plainly unhinged.

Some time soon, he will be back in management. No doubt whatsoever.

What awaits Harte’s successor? A very nice bounty indeed.

They will inherit a team that in 2024 won the Dr McKenna Cup, the National League and finished in the last eight of the All Ireland championship. They were beaten four times, by the four times that fill out this weekend’s semi-finals.

At U20 level, their team managed by Hugh McGrath were ahead and caught by a late Tyrone surge in the Ulster final – Tyrone went on to win the All Ireland, beating Kerry in the final.

In the wider picture, Damian McErlain has just managed the minor team to back to back All Ireland titles and Glen are the reigning All Ireland club champions.

And yet, what Derry football figure is in line to manage them?

McErlain has achieved wonders at underage but has no appetite to go back into senior management at this time.

If you look to club football, the last decade of the senior championship winners has no viable Derry-born candidates.

It has been won by Mickey Moran in charge of Slaughtneil, and Moran is sticking steadfast to retirement.

Others include Sean McGoldrick (originally from Belfast and would not entertain the notion), Malachy O’Rourke of Fermanagh with Glen, and former Tyrone player Adrian Cush, who won with Magherafelt.

Undoubtedly, O’Rourke will head the list. It would be quite something if a man who lives a few mile away from Harte becomes the next man in.

Whoever it will be, it won’t be Rory Gallagher. The issues that stopped him being the Derry manager have now been legally resolved. He is free to manage whoever appoints him.

But that’s a river Derry are not going to cross this time.

2024-07-09T12:30:04Z dg43tfdfdgfd