Tyrone are appearing in the first Ulster final in six seasons on Sunday when they face Donegal on Ulster football’s big day, in St Tiernach’s Park, Clones.
Donegal and, to a lesser extent Monaghan, are the reason the O’Neill County’s failed to climb the hill in Clones on Ulster final day over the last half dozen years, argues Mickey Harte.
In four of of the last six years Donegal have halted Tyrone in Ulster, starting in 2011 with a semi-final win in a highly tactical encounter, on St Tiernach’s hallowed sod.
“We met an emerging Donegal team in 2011,” said three-time All-Ireland winning manager Harte.
“We were in control of that game and then we let it slip. They got a grip on the game before half-time and before we knew we were beaten.
“A few things helped along the way, our lack of efficiency in front of the goals gave Donegal a chance to come back.
“We lost Joe McMahon with a broken jaw that day which was very disruptive to our team as well and Donegal went on to the All-Ireland semi-final to show just how good a team they were.
“Then in 2012 when we played them again, Paul Durcan’s toe denied Marty Penrose a late goal and when the ball came back across the goals Colm Cavanagh missed it by inches.
“Marty Swift also caught a ball in defence near the end of the game and you could make an argument that he was fouled and Brick Molloy stuck the ball in the net.
“Those little game changers that did not fall our way and that was a part on why we missed out in those games.
“Last year in Ballybofey, we had a horrible league game where they walked all over us. But we came back for the championships and we were toe to toe with them the whole way.
“Martin McElhinney’s goal probably against the run of play in the first half made a huge difference in that game.
“We were pounding the Donegal goals at the end and could not get a goal to draw the game. In all those games we were close but close with no cigar.
“We bossed last year’s game, but we did not boss it on the scoreboard and that was it.
“Donegal got the critical scores and Michael Murphy kicked three frees that day that you will never see the likes of again.
“He hit a ‘45’ from right out on the sideline on his wrong side and it went like a bullet over the bar and he didn’t miss a kick at all and then you had Martin McElhinney’s goal which a Premiership player would have been proud of.”
Harte goes on to argue that while Donegal and Monaghan have dominated the Anglo Celt Cup in the last five years, it does not mean that Tyrone were a poor side.
“We were still challenging and how close we got probably got is lost in the fact that Donegal and Monaghan were appearing in all those finals.
“It was forgotten that while we weren’t making the finals we were still a decent team.
“In the midst of that people have got to understand that we got to two All-Ireland semi-finals in those so-called barren years.
“If they were that barren we would not have reached those places. So it is a false thing to say just because we have not won the Ulster title in six years that we are not a decent and top team in Ulster.
“I think that is why we had the determination this year because we did not have to go to Donegal and Monaghan who were the kingpins for the last five years that we had a chance to get to an Ulster final.”
Donegal have beaten Tyrone in their last four championships meetings and are seen by many as Tyrone’s bogey team.
However, this is not a theory that Mickey Harte subscribes too.
“People will say they are our bogey team and that they have got this hoodoo over us and as results go they might say that is the case.
“But I’m not just a results person. I’m a performance person. I’m across the whole game and while they were winning those games I don’t think we could never have won any of those games.
“We lost them all and could have won them all and that gives me the confidence that we can beat Donegal.
“If we had always been playing second fiddle and saying those boys are ahead of us and I don’t know how we are going to get close to Donegal.
“But that was not the case. I know we can get close to Donegal and if we get close to Donegal there is no reason why we cannot beat them.
“I believe we are capable of beating them. I believe we are going to have to play to our best level to do that.
“But that is what you have to do if you want to win things, you gotta play to your best.”
The Tyrone boss is not at all surprised that Donegal dethroned Monaghan and are Tyrone’s final opponents.
“It was being levied against Donegal that Monaghan were their hoodoo team and that in recent encounters between the two, they had come out the wrong side of the result.
“I thought they had that greater reason to want to win so I did feel they were capable of reversing last year’s Ulster final.
“I thought there was something about Donegal that said we need to beat Monaghan or people will hold it against us if we don’t.
“It is the same philosophy for us now.”