Across the GAA world, tributes were paid to Mickey Harte across the weekend as his reign as Tyrone manager came to an end. Harte took over the Tyrone minors in 1991 and has been involved in management of the Red Hand county ever since, serving as manager of the minors, U21s and seniors. Harte is not without his detractors, but in terms of sheer longevity at the elite end of the game, it's hard to imagine anyone in gaelic football topping his achievements any time soon.
While we were given our first introduction to Harte as a GAA pundit at the weekend, we were most interested in the tributes paid to him by the two best players that he coached.
On Sky Sports, Peter Canavan praised Harte as a 'master of motivation' and also celebrated Harte's contributions outside GAA.
'In the world of social media, there's a lot of self-publicists out there, bumming and blowing about what they do for people all over the world. I can assure you never hear tell of Mickey Harte on the things he has done and the solace he has provided for so many families, because he's been through so much tragedy himself.'
Is Peter Canavan interested in the Tyrone job?👀👇 pic.twitter.com/ucQiB1WrI4
— Sky Sports GAA (@SkySportsGAA) November 14, 2020
Meanwhile on the Sunday Game last night, Sean Cavanagh was effusive in his praise for Harte's achievements but added an important 'caveat'.
'You always have to caveat that with there was an amazing core group of players there. Mickey was lucky enough to inherit the ‘98 minors and that core group was the backbone of success right through to the 2008 All-Ireland winning team.
'Since then we probably haven’t reached the standards that Mickey set himself in the early years.
'He was always a big believer in that we should be challenging for All-Ireland titles every year and I don’t think we’ve beaten a Dublin, Mayo or Kerry since then. I think we haven’t reached those standards.
'The incredible dedication and commitment he’s given Tyrone is unrivalled and will probably never be matched but sometimes a change, a fresh voice could energise things.'
Seán Cavanagh assesses the reign of 'serial winner' Mickey Harte, the man who managed him to three All-Ireland titles and has stepped down as Tyrone manager after 18 years in charge. #RTEGAA #GAA pic.twitter.com/Wo6bGpFxnk
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) November 15, 2020
Cavanagh has been one of the more critical ex-Tyrone players of Harte's performances in recent years. Last year, he suggested it could be time for Harte to step aside saying:
The reality is, no one can fault Mickey Harte but time moves on.
Some on social media have criticised Cavanagh for not being gracious enough with his praise, but he asks legitimate questions about Tyrone's failure to beat the elite counties outside of Ulster in the last decade. In the coming years, we'll learn whether Harte was holding Tyrone back over these past few years or the guiding light behind their consistency. Canavan retired in 2005 while Cavanagh soldiered with Harte throughout the last decade, as Tyrone routinely lost All-Ireland semifinals, and even a final in 2018.
Harte's generosity of spirit to those outside the sport cannot be questioned, however, and his ability to ably manage and motivate others in the face of tragedy is likely his greatest achievement.