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Mickey & Michaela

11th Jan 2011

I will always remember Michaela from a wet, miserable day in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise. Mick O'Dwyer's team had just knocked Tyrone out of the Championship and I took a moment to survey the depressing scene from the back of the Stand. 

Everyone seemed to be wearing dark raincoats with matching hats and umbrellas, but then Michaela emerged from the crowd in a bright red and white outfit. She stood out like a candle in the dark. I remember smiling to myself because Michaela always wore some combination of red and white to Tyrone games and she was always there for her Daddy, to brighten up his day, win or lose. 

Michaela was Mickey's only daughter and was very special to him. Boys are great, but girls are different. Ask any Dad. 

I speak from experience, as you can see in the picture. It was taken in the Leukaemia ward of the Royal Victoria Children's Hospital in Belfast when Mickey brought the Sam Maguire cup to show the sick children and my daughter Laura who, as you can see, was on the mend after two years of treatment. 

Mickey drove himself to Belfast that day, he accommodated all requests for pictures and autographs, and then went on his way to another similar appointment. Selfless acts by a man who had already experienced tragedy as manager of the Tyrone Minor football team.

Back in 1997, he sent a team out to play Armagh in the Ulster Championship in Omagh. His own son Mark lined up beside Paul McGirr but later that night Mickey had to comfort Paul's parents when their boy died from injuries sustained in scoring a goal for his team. 

Despite the tragedy, Tyrone went all the way to the All Ireland Final where they lost to Laois. Tears were shed for the defeat and for the year the young lads had fought so courageously through. 

Harte wanted to quit as manager but Stevie O'Neill and Brian McGuigan had a word with Michaela and Mickey's wife Marian. 'Give it one more year' was the plea. 

Michaela went a step further. She went to her room and penned a note called 'Aims'. 

'WE, Mickey & Michaela Harte..

1) WE WILL win the All Ireland Final in 1998 (Minors), 

2) WE WILL win the All Ireland Final in 2000 (U-21s)

3) WE WILL win the All Ireland in 2003 (Senior)

The handwritten note appears at the start of Harte's 2003 book 'Kicking down Heaven's Door' and underlines the affinity Michaela had with the group of players who have become triple All Ireland Senior champions. 

She had been on team bus with the players since she was 14 and was, as Mickey stated in his book, 'their confidant, their friend, their greatest believer… I think it's a wonderful relationship she has with them'.

Michaela is also credited with teaching the Tyrone players to sing the National Anthem in Irish. This became a bonding exercise and an inspirational sight as Mulligan, McMahon & Co belted out the words before games with full gusto and intent. 

It was no wonder then that Harte looked for Michaela at the end of the 2003 All Ireland Final. 'Where's Michaela?' he said as he turned to look into the crowd, even before the final whistle had been blown. Mickey had promised his daughter that she would be the first person he turned to if they won. 

But, euphoria turned to more despair six months later when new Tyrone captain Cormac McAnallen died suddenly at his home. Harte had appointed the young Eglish man as a successor to Peter Canavan because he fitted in perfectly with his own ideals. Harte described Cormac as a 'gem of a man'. 

Mickey faced the TV cameras on the day before Cormac's funeral and after lifting himself to give a passionate tribute to his star pupil, the Tyrone manager sank his head into hands and cried. 

Two Septembers later, Sam Maguire was back in the Tyrone dressing-room in Croke Park with Mickey and new captain Brian Dooher declaring that they had done it for Cormac. He had told the team that he did not want to settle for one All Ireland.  

The girl with the film star looks was still ever-present at Tyrone games and Mickey returned the favour when he accompanied Michaela to Killarney for the Rose of Tralee where she was the O'Neill county representative. 

By now, the St Mary's Teacher Training student was making her own way in the world. I remember introducing Michaela to Seán Óg Ó hAilpín at a function at the Ulster Bank in Belfast so she could interview him in Irish as part of her coursework. A bright, friendly and energetic personality took her to a post at St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon and marriage to John McAreavey. 

And now this. You would understand if the longest-serving county football manager in Ireland decided against rising again from this latest tragedy, but right now football is not important. A doting father has lost his darling daughter. Of course, the whole family and Michaela's new husband deserve all our sympathies, but GAA fans will feel most of all Mickey Harte.




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