It was a night when almost 20,000 people came to Casement Park, not to watch a football match, but to show support for the Harte and McAreavey families.
A night which was a celebration of Michaela McAreavey’s life and a fitting tribute to her memory.
A night deemed so significant that Ulster’s director of rugby David Humphreys and the DUP’s First Minister Peter Robinson visited the famous GAA ground for the first time.
And it was a night when music, dancing and sport all contributed to the sense of occasion at the hugely inspirational Match for Michaela.
The presence of Humphreys, who brought his son James with him, was a symbol of how Michaela’s tragic death resonated with all communities in the north and a sign of the strengthening links between the GAA and Ulster Rugby.
“We’ve watched a number of games down in Croke Park but this is the first time James and I have been to Casement Park,” said Humphreys.
“I thoroughly enjoy watching the sport. It’s a sport I’d have loved to have played.
“We’re delighted to be here to represent Ulster Rugby and show support for the Harte and McAreavey family on what is a fantastic occasion.
“Sport has been touched by tragedy and Mickey was very supportive of us with the Spence family tragedy.”
Humphreys indicated that Ulster are planning their own tribute to Nevin Spence, though what form that will take has yet to be decided.
“Ulster Rugby are talking to the family at the minute to see what memorial could be put in place. That’ll happen over the next few weeks and months and that will be the most appropriate one for the Spence family.”
He may have got a one or two ideas from the wonderful celebration of Michaela’s life on Saturday night.
A superb souvenir booklet containing previously unreleased photographs of Michaela and moving tributes from her family and friends was a lovely keepsake for the crowd of 18,662.
Clearly emotional while speaking on the pitch at half time, Michaela’s father Mickey Harte said: “It is most uplifting to see the energy in the crowd, how early they came and how excited they are to be here.
“It gives us a sense of hope and a sense of how something good can come out of something horrible.”
There are plans for a Michaela Centre to be built in her home parish of Glencull and far from Saturday night being the culmination of something, her husband John McAreavey made it clear that this is only the beginning.
“2013 is going to be a massive year for the Michaela Foundation,” he said “We have got big plans for the Michaela Centre and we’re going to be rolling out the Michaela camps across the country next year.”
The two teams did their best to make the football match competitive with Ulster winning 2-12 to 1-12.
Jim McGuinness’s Donegal included seven of the team which started the All-Ireland final, with many others absent due to county final commitments less than 24 hours later.
Joe Kernan’s Ulster selection was clearly more in the mood for combat, and led 1-6 to 0-4 at half time.
The personal dual between Tyrone’s Martin Penrose and Donegal keeper Paul Durcan was the highlight.
Durcan had denied Penrose a potentially match-winning goal in injury-time of the Ulster semi-final this year, a moment which helped shape Donegal’s destiny in 2012.
Penrose was intent on a small measure of revenge here, beating Durcan after 15 minutes when an attempt at a point found the net.
Ulster captain Darren Hughes added a second goal in the 63rd minute.
Penrose was named man-of-the-match after scoring 1-3, though the award could easily have done to Paddy McBrearty, who hit 1-5 in the second half.
Ulster held on, but the result was irrelevant on a night which was about so much more than a football match.
Scorers for Donegal: P McBrearty 1-5 (2f), N Gallagher, A Hanlon 0-2 each, C Toye, S Griffin and G McFadden 0-1 each.
Scorers for Ulster: M Penrose 1-3 (1f), D Hughes 1-1 (a 45), C Cavanagh and C McManus (1f) 0-2 each, J Loughrey, D Givney, S Cavanagh and B Coulter 0-1 each.
DONEGAL: P Durcan; P McGrath, E McGee, T McKinley; F McGlynn, A McFadden, D Walsh; C Toye, N Gallagher; D McLaughlin, A Hanlon, R Bradley; P McBrearty, M O’Reilly, S Griffin.
Subs: G McFadden for A McFadden HT, O McNelis for Griffin 50, P Withrow for McKinley 64, M McElhinney for Hanlon 64.
ULSTER: B McVeigh; R McCluskey, D Gordon, C McKaigue; C McKeever, D Hughes, J Loughrey; S Cavanagh, D Givney; C Cavanagh, M Poland, J McMahon; M Penrose, M McCann, C McManus.
Subs: V Corey for McCluskey HT, B Coulter for McCann 43, A Rogers for Poland 54, C Gormley for Gordon 57.
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).
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