Sean Cavanagh column: Mickey Harte always had same curious obsession and it is costing Derry now

Derry manager Mickey Harte
Derry manager Mickey Harte -Credit:©INPHO/Ryan Byrne


There are numbers from my career that come to my mind without having to do any thought. Number of All-Irelands? Three. Ulster titles? Six. All Stars? Five. Then there’s the McKenna Cup ...

With the help of Google, I can see that Tyrone won 10 when I was playing. Did I play in all of them? Have no idea. The only memory of McKenna Cup games is the cold and wanting to be somewhere else.

I do have a clatter of McKenna Cup medals somewhere, think they’re in the side pocket of an old gear bag. They won’t be elevated to the mantlepiece any time soon.

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It brings up something I always found curious about Mickey Harte, this obsession with going hard from the start He brought that to Louth and Derry too.

Derry won this year’s McKenna Cup — the 13th time Mickey has won this competition. They went on to win the League, going hard at it early.

That was shown in getting the Glen players on board just days after they’d won the All-Ireland club final. It was something that never sat well with me when it came to Mickey’s approach.

If there was an award for the worst League footballer in Ireland, I’d have been in the running year after year.

I knew it didn’t really matter and, when you have that knowledge, the edge is gone from your game. Without an edge, you’re nothing.

But, when Championship came around, I delivered. That was the kind of football I craved.

Derry’s Conor Glass in action against Paul Conroy of Galway in the All-Ireland SFC first round clash at Pearse Stadium
Derry’s Conor Glass in action against Paul Conroy of Galway in the All-Ireland SFC first round clash at Pearse Stadium -Credit:©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Look where Derry are now. What good is the McKenna Cup and League to them?

Listen, if it was a team that had won nothing, you could make a case for them going hard from the start of the season.

Derry, though, had won the last two Ulster Championships. They only lost last year’s All-Ireland semi-final to Kerry by two points. They were in the semi-finals in 2022 as well.

For Derry, 2024 had to be all about the Championship. Nothing else.

Instead, Mickey played nearly all of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final team in the McKenna Cup final win over Donegal.

Look where that has got them. A stuffing on their own patch first day out in Ulster.

A trip to Galway where they were chasing the game from early on, never looked like winning, and ended up losing by five points.

They are picking up injuries now and losing players. Their next game is a date with Armagh, a team with a huge point to prove.

Gareth McKinless could well get a two- game suspension following his challenge on Damien Comer.

McKinless has always played on the edge but he crossed a line that you just don’t cross.

Derry defender Gareth McKinless
Derry defender Gareth McKinless -Credit: ©INPHO/John McVitty

That kind of indiscipline is one of the reasons why I can’t see Derry making the step any time soon to becoming All-Ireland champions. Of course, Saturday in Salthill wasn’t all about Derry.

In contrast to Derry, Galway had a tough League and were a long way from full strength.

According to selector John Concannon, at one stage, they had 21 players on the injured list and were only able to play seven a side games in training.

But they managed to stay alive in Division One and, gradually, players have returned to full fitness.

Crucially, Pádraic Joyce has been able to get Comer and Shane Walsh on the field together, something that was a struggle since the 2022 All-Ireland final.

Galway haven’t hit the heights of 2022 yet but they’re getting to where they want to be.

Already, in this Championship, they have beaten Mayo and Derry. They are getting a bit more belief and momentum with each win.

The fragility that was there when they just scraped past Sligo has disappeared.

The sun has been shining and the ground has hardened up.

Galway have plenty of footballers suited to summer football.

Saturday’s win means they will very likely be in the last eight of the Championship. They’ll be worth keeping an eye on.

The most disappointing performance of the weekend, by a mile, was that put in by Monaghan down in Killarney.

In truth, it was a non-performance. Monaghan have always been a team that are a pain to play against. Often, that was the literal case. You’d leave the field counting the bruises after a game with them.

That was the trademark of Vinny Corey as a player. He had that in-bred Monaghan hardiness.

He put himself, body and soul, into every single challenge.

Last year, when they gave Dublin a hell of a fright in the All-Ireland semi-finals, we saw the mark of Corey on Monaghan.

What on earth has happened to them since then?

Jack O’Connor might be wishing he’d had a challenge match on Saturday instead of rolling over a pathetic Monaghan.

Kerry's David Clifford has his shot blocked by Monaghan's Killian Lavelle and Conor McCarthy during Saturday's All-Ireland SFC clash at Fitzgerald Stadium
Kerry's David Clifford has his shot blocked by Monaghan's Killian Lavelle and Conor McCarthy during Saturday's All-Ireland SFC clash at Fitzgerald Stadium -Credit: ©INPHO/Ken Sutton

Kerry have had far tougher games in training. They learned nothing, and it looks as if Monaghan are going nowhere.

As for the other two games in the All-Ireland series, they went as everyone had expected.

Losing Paddy Lynch to a cruciate injury was always going to derail Cavan’s season. They rely so heavily on him for scores and leadership.

Mayo won as they pleased but Kevin McStay will be sweating over the fitness of Paddy Durcan. He is vital to Mayo.

In Ennis, Clare pushed Cork hard as they tend to do, and the Rebels just about got over the line. It’s hard to see Cork beating either Donegal or Tyrone.

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