HomeFootballDerry winning the All-Ireland was probably the only way the endgame could...

Derry winning the All-Ireland was probably the only way the endgame could have played out differently for Harte

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For something that started as a melodrama, perhaps it was always fated to play out this way. Mickey Harte needed to deliver his best material to win over the Derry crowd, but from the moment Odhrán Lynch’s frantic scrambles became a trademark of their season, the gig was up.

The Tyrone native’s sojourn in Derry lasted 10 months and included 18 competitive games in the McKenna Cup, league and championship, and he finished with a record of 13 wins and five losses.

Derry entered four competitions, they won two – the McKenna Cup and league title (a first since 2008). Their five losses came against Dublin, Donegal, Galway, Armagh and Kerry. It wasn’t a tremendous season, but it certainly wasn’t an awful one results wise.

But as a Tyrone man in charge of Derry, Harte’s challenge was to convince his neighbours the fit was right. Victories early in the season sustained a veneer of tolerance for many but an undercurrent of scepticism continually bubbled away just below the surface.

Was the dice stacked against Harte from the off? Would a league title, and a quarter-final championship exit to Kerry have been enough for an alternative Derry manager to remain in situ? Or was the manner of Derry’s unravelling and their lack of energy throughout the championship simply too alarming for change not to come?

The rumours of unrest in the camp after the defeat to Armagh spread rapidly and widely. For all the nonsense that was whirling around, the reality is by that stage it didn’t much matter if it was true or false – the damage was done. Harte’s spell as Derry manager had become the stuff of popcorn gifs, a gawking public eagerly waiting to see what would happen next.

Winning the All-Ireland was probably the only way the endgame could have played out differently.

Last weekend noises Harte was about to step down grew louder, but with the Derry minors playing Armagh in the All-Ireland final on Sunday it seems there might have been a conscious decision to hold off on any announcement until Monday.

In his exit statement Harte didn’t elaborate on why he was stepping away, but it is believed there was a desire within the playing group for change. Harte had shown resilience and confidence in his ability during his latter years with Tyrone to remain at the helm, so choosing to walk away from Derry after just one season suggests he judged the mood music for change in the camp was strong.

Given the wild card nature of the county board’s initial play last year in tempting Harte away from Louth, it is unlikely Derry officialdom was about to push him out the door. So if Harte’s decision was because he felt the players weren’t fully behind him – at least it is cleaner for all involved that the ties which did briefly bind were severed early.

What now for Derry? Locally it seems few conversations about a successor don’t eventually get around to the possibility of Rory Gallagher returning. His coaching techniques remain highly regarded by the players but there is much to consider for all parties before such a move.

Malachy O’Rourke would be an obvious option. He was approached last year but he opted against it, feeling at the time he had “unfinished business” with Glen – namely trying to win an All-Ireland club title, which he has since achieved. O’Rourke is still Glen manager.

Damian McErlain’s enormously successful spell as Derry minor manager has also inevitably seen his name linked with a return to the senior gig, though it is felt he may instead step up to take charge of the under-20s.

As for Harte, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious management position waiting for him, though his moves haven’t tended to be predictable. Less than two weeks after he finished with Tyrone in November 2020, he was appointed Louth manager, which blindsided everybody. His hasty departure from Louth was equally unexpected. That was the beginning of a melodrama, the final episode of which played out in Croke Park on the last day of June.

In the curtain-raiser to Derry and Kerry that afternoon Louth faced Donegal. Harte had played his part in raising Louth to a level where that quarter-final appearance was possible, but in the fallout of his exit there was damage done, feelings were hurt.

Harte himself had to tolerate plenty of brickbats getting tossed in his direction over the last 10 months, from Derry and even closer to home. It can’t have been easy.

Derry and Louth’s 2024 championship finished on the same day, at the same stage and in the same place. You have to wonder in the end was all the upheaval and melodrama worth it?

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