Derry 'very, very lucky' to have Harte as manager

Derry are "very, very lucky" to have under-pressure Mickey Harte as manager, according to former Louth GAA chairman Peter Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick brought Harte to Louth in 2020 after his 17 years with Tyrone came to an end.

Harte made the decision to join Derry in September after three successful years with Louth, but finds himself under pressure after three Championship defeats in a row.

Derry, who reached the semi-finals in 2023, will be knocked out of the All-Ireland series at the first hurdle if they do not defeat Westmeath in their final Group 1 game on Saturday.

"I think Derry are very, very lucky to have him," said Fitzpatrick, who added he had "so much belief" in Harte while he was Louth manager.

After his 17-year stint as Tyrone manager came to a close, in which he won three All-Ireland titles and six Ulster Championships, eyebrows were raised when Harte made the decision to join Division Four side Louth.

However, it turned out to be an inspired decision as Harte guided them to Division Two and after the county was, in Fitzpatrick's words, at "an all-time low".

"When I became chairman, I said the only way we would get out of it was to get a good manager, " added the former Louth chairman..

"I approached Mickey Harte, he was still manager of Tyrone when there was word he wasn't going to renew his contract with Tyrone.

"He told me he would like to stay on for another 12 months with Tyrone, but if he didn't then he would contact me.

"He's a man of his word. He rang me, we met up and the rest his history."

Harte's departure 'hit us hard'

Fitzpatrick said Harte "will always be a hero" in Louth after "three fantastic years" but added that his departure to Derry in September "really did hit us hard".

"I met Mickey and Gavin [Devlin, Harte's assistant coach] in a local hotel and Mickey said, straight out: 'Listen, Peter, myself and Gavin are moving on'.

"Mickey said he had ambitions to win one more All-Ireland and had been offered the position by Derry."

Fitzpatrick believed that Harte had verbally agreed a two-year extension but acknowledges nothing had been signed before Derry came knocking.

"I was probably angry and disappointed, but time is a great healer," he added.

"We had great plans for Mickey and Gavin. But, as I say, we have nothing but admiration about what Mickey and Gavin done for us over the three years.

"Mickey went, but it was the timing that was really bad. It was September and the team was back training in November.

"We were getting ready for the National League in January."

Fitzpatrick admits it "wasn't handy to replace Mickey" and he interviewed "at least 25 people" for the vacant position.

He recalled that Ger Brennan's name kept coming up and he was chosen as Harte's successor.

Brennan, who won two All-Irelands as a player with Dublin, helped the Wee County retain their Division Two status this year.

"Mickey was going to be someone who was a hard act to follow.

"Ger's not doing a good job, he's doing an excellent job. We're very happy with how things worked out."

Depending on results in the final round of All-Ireland fixtures, there is a chance that Harte's Derry could face Louth, who cannot be eliminated, in the preliminary quarter-finals but Fitzpatrick says his former manager would be welcomed "with open arms".

He remains in contact with Harte and says while he is delighted with the progress under Brennan, the door may remain open for a reunion in the future.

"Mickey rang me up and then told me to my face [he was leaving]. A lot of people wouldn't do that. He is a very honourable individual.

"You never know, down the road they might come back at some stage.

"We're having a super season with Ger. Louth are on a ride, and I hope we continue it."