‘The players would be scared of falling behind if they go on the beer’

Ahead of Sunday’s first Championship clash between Tyrone and Dublin since 2011, former Tyrone footballer Owen Mulligan claims Mickey Harte must be offered a fresh deal, that Sean Cavanaghm should stay on too, and that the Red Hands are poised for success.

‘The players would be scared of falling behind if they go on the beer’

Have Tyrone got the tools to beat a Dublin side chasing three All-Ireland titles in a row?

Owen Mulligan:

I think they do. I think they’ll beat Dublin. Dublin are an exceptional outfit, they’re class and they always were this last few years, you only have to look at their record, but Tyrone and Dublin clashes have been great over the years, even though this is a brand new bunch of lads, with only a few All-Ireland winners in the team.

I still think the team is full of winners and Mickey Harte has galvanised the whole thing. It took him a while, and there was a bit of pressure on, and he still hasn’t got that extra year that he wants, that couple of years of a contract.

Harte asked for an extension last September which would take him up to the end of 2018, but was knocked back. Are you surprised?

Owen Mulligan:

I’m very surprised. He’s a ruthless man, and I know that first hand. He’s totally ruthless, but I think you have to respect a man like that. I think he deserves another couple of years of a contract. With the team he’s built there he’ll need another couple of years if they don’t get over the line this time. The supporters see it, I just don’t think the county board sees it.

There seems to be constant tension between Mickey Harte and the county board over the issue of his future?

Owen Mulligan:

There seems to be, yeah. I think it’s only a few on the county board who’ve got a gripe with him. I don’t know why. If Mickey Harte doesn’t get the job, there will be every other county having a look at him. Do us, as Tyrone people, want that? Do we want Mickey going to another county and seeing the experience he’ll give them? They’ll be queuing up for him.

Harte has won three All-Irelands and is in his 15th season in charge but seems hungry as ever for silverware?

Owen Mulligan:

Talking to him on Monday night, I’ve never ever heard him like that, even when I was a player. He can’t wait to get out on the field. He said at a Club Tyrone function it’s the most committed bunch he’s ever managed and he looked at Peter Canavan and said that’s including Peter Canavan’s team!

That was the team I was in and there were a few rule breakers, including myself, but he said he doesn’t have to mention alcohol, the players themselves would be scared of falling behind other players if they go on the beer. He said they’re the most professional bunch he’s ever managed.

What about Dublin?

Owen Mulligan:

I went to the Leinster final and I saw chinks in their armour. I’d never seen teams go through Dublin, through the middle. Only for Cluxton that day, Kildare had two goal chances and it could have been huge for them if they’d scored. They seemed to go right through the middle of Dublin. Okay, Jonny Cooper wasn’t playing that day and he’s a big asset, he’s an organiser as well as a marker.

A couple of other fellas weren’t playing either, but if you ran at Dublin in years gone by, they would have stopped you, they would have hunted in packs. I didn’t see that against Kildare.

Sean Cavanagh has indicated that he will retire if Tyrone lose. How important will he be to them on Sunday?

Owen Mulligan:

I don’t think Cavanagh should go. I don’t. I think you could use him off the bench. Harte did it with Canavan in his final year or two. Cavanagh is a massive part of Tyrone. He’s a serious player. He’s taken some abuse over the years, but he still comes back... You only have to look at his physique, he’s 34 years of age, but I think he has

another year left in him, at least.

Diarmuid Connolly is available again for Dublin after his 12-week suspension. Will they start him?

Owen Mulligan:

It’s a big call. I don’t think he’ll start, but he’s a massive player for Dublin, he’s top class and one of the best in the whole of Ireland, but Tyrone will make sure they target him in their own way. You only have to look at his discipline record and I think Tyrone will pounce on that, they’ll definitely target it.

I read one of Alan Brogan’s articles where he said he hated Tyrone. He hated Tyrone because we targeted him. He was the best player on the field and that’s the way it is now in Gaelic football.

You target the best players, the score-getters. That’s the way Mickey Harte goes about his business. The best players have to be cancelled out of the game, then you have a better chance of winning it. He’ll be in for special treatment I would say.

You scored that great solo goal against Dublin after selling two dummies to defenders in 2005. Was it your favourite fixture?

Owen Mulligan:

It was. I just loved the whole hype, loved playing in Croke Park, the whole Hill 16 thing. I am a Liverpool fan, so when I was younger it was the Kop to me. You are playing in the capital, it was a class, class fixture, but I have seen other players freeze.

It is a big, daunting place and, if you miss a couple of shots in front of The Hill, they will soon let you know about it.

Owen Mulligan is a Paddy Power GAA ambassador. The former All-Star will contribute exclusive columns to the Paddy Power Blog in which he’ll discuss tactics and key matches.

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