Former Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick, part of the subcommittee that secured Mickey Harte’s services, believes returning to a Leinster final and to Division 2 of the Allianz League are realistic targets.
Current Louth chairman Fitzpatrick was part of the five-man group that pulled off the audacious coup of convincing three-time All-Ireland winning Tyrone boss Harte to succeed Wayne Kierans.
Harte’s 18-season reign in Tyrone ended on November 13, when his request for a one-year extension was rejected, and just 10 days later he was named as Louth’s manager on a three-year deal.
Speaking on LMFM local radio, Fitzpatrick said the subcommittee landed its number one target in Harte despite there being “between 40 and 50 people that were interested in managing the Louth team”.
A decade on from contesting the 2010 Leinster final, when they were infamously denied the title by an illegal stoppage time goal from Meath, Louth had a dismal 2020 which yielded relegation to Division 4 and a Leinster SFC loss to Longford.
“People say, ‘What’s the goal?’ Our goal over the next two or three years is to get back into Division 2, hopefully get back into a Leinster final,” said Fitzpatrick, who reckons the three-year deal proved to Harte that Louth “mean business”.
“We’re going to be ambitious. As I said from day one when I became chairman of the Louth county board, I told the delegates that there were two big things going forward; an ambition to get the right man managing Louth and to get Louth back up where we belong. And we need a home, we turned the sod there in February on a new stadium and hopefully the next couple of years should be very exciting times for the people of Louth.”
Fitzpatrick revealed that he and his subcommittee moved quickly when it became clear that Harte was available.
“I’m not going to say that we put all our eggs in one basket but in fairness he was our main candidate,” said Fitzpatrick, an independent TD having previously represented Fine Gael.
“We gave him plenty of time, we gave him plenty of space, there were nearly between 40 and 50 people that were interested in managing the Louth team and in fairness our number one target was Mickey Harte.”
Harte’s preference had been to remain for one more season with Tyrone and then step down but this request was rejected by officials, dividing opinion in the county.
Speaking on LMFM’s Late Lunch programme, former Tyrone star Philip Jordan said that he personally wanted the Errigal Ciaran man to remain in charge.
“There is a small but fairly vocal element within the county that felt it was time for change,” said Jordan. “Mickey was so successful in his first six years in senior management and then, because Tyrone haven’t won an All-Ireland in 12 years, people expect that to happen every single year.
“But we live in a real world where before Mickey came, Tyrone didn’t have any All-Ireland titles. He has set the bar so high that he probably punished himself in a way because everyone expected that bar had to be met on a regular basis.
“Certainly I would have liked to see Mickey get another year out of it. There’s a fair bit of potential in Tyrone and it maybe looks like next year, we could have as good a forward line as we’ve had since Tyrone was winning All-Ireland titles. There was certainly potential for another All-Ireland.”
Pete McGrath, virtually the same age as Harte and a two-time All-Ireland winning manager with Down, was a high profile Louth appointment in 2018 but left after a disappointing season.
Fitzpatrick is optimistic about Harte and is hopeful that the man who guided Tyrone to six Ulster titles can first of all get the best players out on the field for Louth.
“We’re not just looking for a quick fix,” said Fitzpatrick. “We want someone to come in, to get a system in place... a lot of players over the last number of years haven’t made themselves available. It’s very important that we get the best players in Louth out, we are only a small county.”
Jordan predicted that Harte, who is expected to speak to the media for the first time as Louth manager on Friday, will be up to speed quickly on his adopted panel and the talent at his disposal.
“I’m sure he’ll hold trials, if that’s allowed to happen in the current circumstances, but there’ll be no doubt about it, Mickey Harte will know about any player of any relevance whatsoever in Louth within probably four to six weeks I would say,” said Jordan.
“He wouldn’t have taken it on without knowing a certain amount about them anyway. That’s the type of person Mickey is, he prepares to the finest detail and when he commits to something, he commits to it completely.”