Ireland unites in grief to support Hartes

AT SOME point this morning a middle-aged man in Northern Ireland will look in his wardrobe for a particular item of clothing, one that’s kept for specific occasions.

It may not be the same item he had to use almost 14 years ago, when one of the boys in his care died on the field of play.

It may not be the actual tie he had to wear to the burial of another young man some years ago — another one of his charges, someone else who died shockingly young in the middle of the night.

It may not even be the tie he wore to the funeral of others to whom he was connected – the siblings of one of his players, who died in car accidents, for instance.

When Mickey Harte pulls his black tie from the back of the sock drawer or the furthest corner of his wardrobe this morning in Ballygawley, however, its newness or otherwise will be the least of his concerns as he folds it around his shirt collar before going out to bury his daughter.

The shocking murder of Harte’s daugher Michaela on honeymoon in Mauritius has struck a chord with the entire country, unsurprisingly. The death of a young beautiful girl usually draws headlines, and when she’s famous, as Michaela Harte was, the media don’t let up with the coverage.

The difference here, of course, is that this generation of Tyrone players and management are all too familiar with the kind of shocking news that leads to cars nosing around funeral homes for a parking space and hushed handshakes at the doors of a church.

This columnist was at the launch of Christy O’Connor’s book ‘The Club’ in Ennis last November, and amid a stellar line-up of guest speakers, Harte stood out.

O’Connor’s book, though focusing on a GAA club, also details the impact of sudden and unexpected death on a close-knit community, and Harte was the ideal speaker to address that issue.

When he outlined the various blows that Tyrone had taken – the deaths of Paul McGirr while in the Tyrone minor jersey and Cormac McAnallen, taken in the middle of the night, not to mention the deaths of members of Kevin Hughes’ family – the gasps were audible in the gathering in the Old Ground Hotel.

What some of those in attendance may not have known was that Harte is known in the GAA community for making himself available to clubs all over the country – quietly and with no desire for publicity — which have had players die sudden or untimely deaths. Leitrim GAA people were loud in their praise this week of the Tyrone manager’s help in the aftermath of Philly McGuinness’ death, for instance, but that generosity of spirit is of a piece with people’s perception of Harte.

Certainly his comments on television last week, flanked by his two sons, bolstered that impression of Mickey Harte; it made a stark contrast with the mealy-mouthed creeps from Anglo-Irish Bank and Leinster House who polluted many of the same news programmes.

This column hasn’t had many dealings over the years with Mickey Harte, though what interaction we have had would bear out people’s view of him.

After Tyrone won their second All-Ireland title we got the idea that we’d quiz Harte about his training methods.

Now, a county that’s won an All-Ireland usually doesn’t lack distractions in the few days after collecting the big cup, and those involved tend to have better things to do than chat to journalists they don’t know, but being optimistic, we said we’d chance it . . .

Surprise number one was when Harte answered.

Surprise number two wasn’t his answer — “Sorry, can’t talk now... ” — but his offer: “ ...if you want I’ll give you my home number, ring me there at six and we can chat then, how’s that?”

Surprise number three was the lengthy chat we had at six o’clock when the Tyrone manager was informative, honest and modest, three qualities not shared by every inter-county boss of our acquaintance.

The Harte family – and John McAreavey – will take some solace from the outpouring of sympathy for them in recent days.

The thousands of sympathisers expected in Tyrone this morning will reinforce the feeling that people wish them the best. Anyone who has known a bereavement knows that such support is a comfort. They also know that after the crowds disperse and life gets back to normal, the pain can emerge from nowhere, at the oddest times and sparked by the most tenuous connections to the deceased.

For Mickey Harte and his family, the hard times are only beginning when the tie goes back in the wardrobe.

* Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

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