And God save anybody having to go to this place.

How could you not be moved by the brief statement offered yesterday by Mickey Harte as news emerged of the death of his daughter Michaela whilst on her honeymoon in Mauritius. Anyone familiar with the GAA would have known her as a regular companion of her father on match days. She even accompanied him onto RTE’s The Late Late Show and he, in turn, proudly supported her as a contestant in the Rose of Tralee in 2004. An Irish language teacher at St Pats Academy in Dungannon, she had married John McAreavey, himself a Down senior footballer, on 30th December 2010.

Photogenic, intelligent and outgoing, she was very much part of the wider team around Mickey Harte as he managed Tyrone to 3 All-Ireland SFC titles in 2003, 2005 and 2008. To put this in the context of the non-professional, the demands this put on Mickey Harte’s time could only be met with the support of his family who, in so doing, were able to share many of the highs. Arguably, without the immediate and visible support of his family, Harte may not have felt able to stay at the helm and steer Tyrone to such successes and Marian, Michaela, Mark, Matthew and Michael were very much part of his own personal management team.

The typical demands include not just those of managing a football team, but also meeting the expectations of GAA clubs all over the country who request a visit from the All-Ireland winners, the trophy, the stars and manager. You only need to attend a typical club function where excited ten year olds fall over each other for a photograph with the Sam Maguire Cup and Harte or one of his team to realise the impact that the likes of Mickey Harte have had, and continue to have, on the community. That this time is given so freely, in all senses, makes it all the richer for those who benefit from it.

Unfortunately, Tyrone GAA circles have been too often touched by tragedies, such as the accidental death of Paul McGirr, a contemporary of many of the current senior panel, in a minor match in 1997 and the loss of Cormac McAnallen in 2004 to sudden cardiac death (which also claimed promising young Ulster rugby star John McCall the same year). McAnallen’s death shocked the GAA and the public in a profound way. Amateur sports stars attain much more esoteric and less worldly rewards than their professional cousins, indeed, many must also extend themselves to acheiving parallel successes in a non-sporting career just to pay their bills. The return on the considerable investment of their talents, motivation and time is measured in acclaim and affirmation rather than pounds, shillings and pence. For them to pass so long before their time puts their unrequited contribution to public life in stark relief. At the time of Cormac McAnallen’s death much of Irish society took its lead from Mickey Harte who, despite his own obvious grief, offered leadership and ultimately a fitting tribute in Tyrone’s cathartic 2005 All-Ireland success.

In the midst of the many post-match celebrations, as photographers were very quick to realise, Harte’s craggy, unshaven face was often softened by the illuminating and vivacioius presence of his daughter. For a man, and a family, who have offered so much, and so freely, the loss of such a light is an incomprehensible tragedy.

Yesterday Mickey, standing alongside his sons, offered these words:

Michaela was a lovely girl, a wonderful daughter, a brilliant sister for these boys and we will always treasure her. She was a beautiful girl. She couldn’t be better, couldn’t be nicer. God love her, we are so, so sorry.
We are equally sorry for poor John, her husband, whom she adored. He adored her. They did not get so long to share their lives with each other. It is such a shame. Our hearts are broken.
A lot of people have had this experience before. We have tried to empathise with them, but you can’t get the feeling unless you have been there. And God save anybody having to go to this place.
But we thank God for the people who are there, the support that is there and the prayers that are there. We know they are coming in thick and fast and it is so good at this time. We need that.
And we need the bit of privacy now. This is how we feel.

Go ndéanfaidh Dia tróchaire ar a h-anam.

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