Mickey Harte is busy preparing for Dublin challenge
By Orla Bannon
It is frequently overlooked in the rush to extol the virtues of Dublin's potent attack, but Mickey Harte believes Jim Gavin has built a side that defends as much and as well as anyone in the country.
The Tyrone manager points to Dublin's All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Donegal in 2014, Gavin's sole Championship setback, as the game which marked a seminal change in Dublin's play.
“I think from that day on you saw a different Dublin,” Harte says. “They became more defensive and very much aware of the need to be defensive, and they do it with great skill.
“Up to that time, I think they did play totally on the front foot. They just took on all comers and said ‘We’ll beat ye. I don’t care what you’re about, we’ll beat ye’.
“Donegal cracked that myth on them, and I think they learned a lot from that myth. Ever since that time, and while they have the quality to go and kill you with scores, they also are very very secure at the back. They have a great system of defending and it is very ordered.”
With the countdown to Sunday's All-Ireland SFC decider now entering its final week, both managers and extensive backroom teams will have spent the last fortnight pouring over hours and hours of footage of the opposition.
There are undoubtedly things for Harte to heed in how Mayo took Dublin on tactically in recent finals, drawing one and losing two by a point.
“There's lessons in every bit of footage you can get your hands on," Harte admits.
“It's very important in this modern era where there is so much footage available, you've got to be about the business of dissecting that and really examining it.
“Yes, Mayo have had a good record against them in finals and run them close, as close as you can come to beating Dublin on such a big day, and Mayo obviously deserve credit for being able to do that.
“Whether somebody else can take the Mayo template if there is such a thing, and apply that to themselves, well that’s a different question. What we have to do is apply the best of ourselves from what we learned from how other teams against Dublin.”
Harte, who has led Tyrone to the final for the first time in 10 years, claims it's nothing new for Tyrone to be underdogs at this stage of the season. Dublin are favourites to win the Sam Maguire for a fourth year in a row with Tyrone rank outsiders for their first appearance in the decider since 2008.
They've won all three All-Ireland finals under Harte in 2003, 2005 and 2008 and is relaxed about Jim Gavin's champions' star billing. “It's not particularly new for us,” insisted the Tyrone boss.
“We were underdogs in 2003 going into play Kerry in a semi-final, we weren't supposed to win that game. Maybe we got a bit closer to Armagh because we beat Kerry – but they were defending All-Ireland champions.
“In fact every time we have come in to a final, we have met the defending All-Ireland champions and Kerry were favourites to beat us in 2005 and 2008. So we were underdogs in all those occasions and we didn't do too badly.
“We understand that place – being underdogs – and having to be at your very best to get what you want. Maybe we should be glad of that fact, that we have never really gone into an All-Ireland final as favourites at any time.”