ROY CURTIS: All Harte, no soul - Tyrone boss unrepentent over tactics

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

MICKEY Harte’s reinvention of Croke Park as a medieval torture chamber, a palace of torment, was depressing enough.

But the decorated Tyrone manager’s post-match defiance after the impossibly grim eyesore of a contest with Dublin, the ultimate tactical monstrosity, suggested Mickey believes the near 28,000 crowd was drawn entirely from the masochistic community.

Here is what Harte said after gifting the paying punters the most God-awful bus-parking celebration of negativity, a 70-minute shard-glass colonoscopy. 
“Anybody who is going to Gaelic football to see goals only, maybe they should go to another game.”

He added: “I don’t think the people out there were very disappointed at all. I think they must have been very happy.”

Let’s be honest, Pharrell Williams wouldn’t have been happy in Croker last Saturday.

Mickey’s words read like the script from one of those No-Nonsense adverts where a giant brick arrives from the heavens to crush the jabbering author of so much babble. 

This was a claustrophobic horror-show, a cynical festival of lateral-passing, an unrelenting evening in Grimsville.

Pretending otherwise, mistaking the hole you are digging for the high moral ground, is daft: Mickey is living in denial.  

Harte’s CV is festooned with garlands: a three-time All-Ireland winner, a coach who demanded a seat for his county at football’s top tables.

He dealt with unimaginable personal heartache with dignified bravery that was extraordinary; his longevity, like that of his friend, Brian Cody, is a miracle of persistence, confirmation of how the narcotic of glory can consume a man.

Yet his post-match commentary felt like a great Niagara of arrogance, a haughty cascade crashing down from on high.

The kindest we can manage is to deem it a surrender to delusion to argue that the masses would have enjoyed such an excruciating evening.

Here was a truly dreadful game; the soundtrack of the dentist’s drill would have been fitting as this was an extraction – of joy, artistry, refinement.

Tyrone frequently stationed 14 – and occasionally 15 – men behind the ball; Dublin were challenged to play football in a phone box.

Of course it broke no rules, but for some of us it felt like the latest betrayal of aesthetics, of great sport’s capacity to grab you in an ecstatic, inspiring clinch.

It was merely one more exhibition of the suffocating culture of restraint, the cancer of caution that has become the template for so many of the clipboard generals. 

Rugby has hardly been immune to the disease – this year’s Six Nations largely played at about 50 feet above terra firma.

But for those of us who love Gaelic football, it is difficult to overstate how dismally disheartening the frequent absence of adventure is.
A day after the Croker torment there was an unseasonal outbreak of the winter vomiting bug as Donegal and Monaghan employed the puke football stencil.

Donegal finished with just 1-4 and did not score a point from play.

And yet Mickey Harte believes everything is fine and dandy.

I have no idea if it was what Harte intended, but some of us interpreted his words as an admonishment for any soccer blow-ins who dared to pollute the Croke Park air. But a fondness for soccer is not the problem, a dislike of crudity is.

Anybody who has revelled in the sorcery of Maurice Fitzgerald or Peter Canavan or Kieran McDonald could only despair at the strangling of space.

Increasingly unwatchable, the game was played out in near silence, failing utterly to engage people who had paid good money for the dubious pleasure.

One of the more remarkable ironies in the aftermath of the 2014 championship was the queue of commentators advising Jim Gavin – on the back of one defeat to Donegal – that he needed to urgently overhaul his tactics.

This despite the fact that Dublin have won five of the six major prizes they have contested under the manager and play a glorious, swashbuckling brand.
Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn and Jack McCaffrey are untethered and given a license to thrill.

But the madness of the new conservatism turns artists into workhorses; virtuosos into hod-carriers. Armagh are employing Jamie Clarke – the Ulster Gooch for heaven’s sake – as a wing-back.  

Gavin is a light in the dark, a manager committed to the concept of the beautiful game, a visionary who believes glory and splendour need not be mutually exclusive.
Some might even regard him as the last chance for a game enduring an existential crisis, the redeemer Gaelic football so desperately requires.

Yet the consensus was that Dublin, rather than Donegal and their increasing band of disciples, should be first to blink: That sunshine should retreat behind the clouds.

There is talk of the need for rule changes, of a certain number of forwards being compelled to remain in an attacking jurisdiction, of a limit on hand passes, a redefining of the tackle, the insistence that kick-outs travel 50 or more yards.

But it is the mindset more than the rule-book that must be turned on its head.

First up must be an end to the pretence, the propaganda that misery is entertainment, that a palace of torment is really a theatre of cheer. 

And a cessation of the concept of the “true Gael”, a pure-bred Paddy who can find joy in anything so long as it is not one of those pesky foreign games.  

For right now, it is increasingly hard to be captivated by a game that is all Harte and too little soul.