AS THE LONGEST serving inter-county manager in Gaelic football, Mickey Harte has witnessed plenty of change since he took charge of Tyrone in the winter of 2002.

One thing that hasn’t altered, Harte says, is the enjoyment players take from competing at the top.

Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

Harte delivered three All-Irelands in his first six years in charge of the Red Hand, as they brought the game to new heights both tactically and physically.

Almost 14 years on from leading his native county to the holy grail for the first time in their history, Harte is well placed to assess where the game finds itself.

Jim Gavin’s all-conquering Dublin are football’s current standard-bearers, in an era where being an inter-county player has never been more time-consuming. But Harte rejects the notion that the demands are too high.

“There is a huge demand but also the modern day Gaelic football athlete want to do what they are doing,” he says. “I want to set the record straight on that.

“Some people would have us believe that they don’t enjoy what they are doing, or that it is a chore for them. I have not yet met anyone who does not enjoy playing for Tyrone and I think there are very few county footballers who do not enjoy what they are doing.

“In fact, they set the standards for themselves. They are the most demanding people on their own time, their own commitment and they have to be admired for it. They enjoy what they are doing.

Mickey Harte was at the GAA Healthy Clubs launch at Craobh Chiarain GAA Club, Parnell Park

Source: Cody Glenn/SPORTSFILE

“Why would anyone partake in what they are doing, to the level of it, if they didn’t enjoy it? We don’t want the soundbite going out there that they don’t enjoy what they are doing.

“They do enjoy it and they work hard at it. People don’t enjoy putting in the hard grind to get themselves into the peak condition they want to be in, but they know that is the price they pay to enjoy something later.”

Harte even says he has had to hold his players back to avoid them over-training.

“In fact, in recent times, I have had to tell people to stop training, I never had to do that before in my life. People are doing too much, they don’t understand the value of recovery and you have to hold them back.

“That is where they are at, these young men, and I can’t think that men that do that aren’t enjoying it. They love that they have this opportunity to be an athlete at the top-level.”

Harte was also keen to downplay the furore over the St Brigid’s contract that was leaked last week. It raised plenty of eyebrows, but he doesn’t believe it’s a widespread issue within the game.

“How does that tell us what the standard is across the country? This could be an exception to the rule, perhaps. And it might not be happening to everybody. That is the not standard issue that is happening in club and county teams.

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“People expect to commit to each other, they are in this together and they must set certain standards. If they don’t want to live by those standards, they move off and do something else.

Harte celebrates as the final whistle crowns Tyrone 2016 Ulster champions

Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

“This is a very extreme example and we can’t hold that up as a typical example of what goes on in the GAA world. Keep it in context, that is overboard and extreme in one fashion, accept it as such, don’t believe that this is the way of the world now. It is not like that at all.

“I wouldn’t lay out rules because it’s not for me to dictate how the rules should be. What it is for me is to facilitate the group to decide what they need to do. I have to talk to all of those players and ask them ‘what do you think we need to be about here to deliver the best of ourselves?’ so we come to a consensus of what needs to be done.

“So they will come up with something that is sensible and right for them and I think that will still prevail in many places, club and county.”

Despite a successful campaign where Tyrone sealed promotion back to Division 1 and lifted a first Ulster crown since 2010, the county board turned down his request for a one-year extension.

Harte and Peter Canavan arrive in Tyrone with the Sam Maguire in 2003

Source: INPHO

Is he feeling under pressure to deliver this year?

“Anyone who is in the business of being as good as you can be, the pressure comes from within. It’s your own pressure to deliver the best of yourself, to help your players deliver the best of themselves, that’s the only pressure I entertain. I don’t entertain pressure from anywhere else.

“If someone decides in their wisdom they no longer want me managing Tyrone I have to accept that and move along. That’s not where I am at the moment.

“I’m in the business of doing the best for this Tyrone team, I don’t intend to leave that just now. If someone else decides I should leave then that’s their prerogative to do so and I have to live with that. But the pressure is to deliver the best of ourselves.”

Harte added that Sean Cavanagh “tweaked something behind his knee” two weeks ago, but he expects Tyrone’s elder statesman to be fit for the start of the league.

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