MANAGER Eddie Howe has highlighted the importance of Ian Harte’s “priceless” contribution to Cherries – both on and off the pitch.

Defender Harte, who has played a starring role in his debut campaign with Cherries, last week finalised terms on a new contract at Dean Court.

The experienced 36-year-old, who joined Cherries on a free transfer following his release by Reading, was rewarded for his exploits with a 12-month deal. Drafted in for the injured Charlie Daniels at the end of January, Harte has been instrumental as Howe’s men have made a late surge for the Championship play-offs.

Although he was restricted to eight appearances during his first six months at the club, Howe has revealed how Harte continued to play a key role behind the scenes.

Howe told the Daily Echo: “I was really pleased Ian decided to pledge his future to us. I have been very impressed with him as a professional, as a player and as a man since he joined us. He has done everything we wanted him to and more, especially behind the scenes.

“He is a very good pro and a really cool and steadying influence in the squad. He was also a real support to Charlie Daniels when he wasn’t in the team. You can’t buy that sort of support for team-mates. It is priceless and that is one of the reasons we offered him another year.

“It is very important to get the team dynamic right. The players work and train together every day and you need the balance and the harmony of the squad to be good.

“People like Ian Harte, Richard Hughes and Darryl Flahavan, who we haven’t necessarily seen in the spotlight in terms of playing, have played such a pivotal role in educating and guiding the squad and promoting good habits. There are other good pros as well but those three really experienced players for me have been just as important as everyone else this season.”

Harte, who turns 37 in August, made 16 successive appearances and scored a stunning goal during the 4-2 win at Birmingham last month before Daniels was recalled for Easter Monday’s clash at Ipswich.

Howe added: “A lot is made of players’ ages as they get into their mid-to-late 30s but we had it with Steve Fletcher who probably played his best football for us in his late 30s. Age is no barrier if you have the dedication to your craft and Ian certainly has that. I judge him on what he produces not his age.

“He has played at the highest level within the game and is very highly thought of by a lot of people. It was no surprise he came in and did as well as he did. From my perspective, wanting him to stay and looking to the future, the whole package he brings was very important rather than just the playing side.”