Football takes a back seat as tearful Mickey returns to fray
AMID the cheers and applause which reverberated across the countryside yesterday, it was the sound of silence which spoke the loudest.
In the most heart-rending of tributes, a grieving Mickey Harte stood shoulder to shoulder with his Tyrone football panel and thousands of supporters as they remembered his daughter Michaela Harte.
The scene was Edendork GAA grounds, a compact stadium a mile outside Dungannon, moments before the start of Tyrone's Dr McKenna Cup clash with Donegal.
But this was an afternoon where the result, even the game, was a sideshow.
In a county which lives and breathes GAA, rarely has a win been greeted with such little enthusiasm or celebration.
Normally this match -- effectively a pre-season fixture -- would do well to attract anywhere near 1,000 fans.
Yesterday, however, the terraces were swelled as supporters turned out to show their solidarity with the Harte family following Michaela's murder in Mauritius.
"I want to say a big thank you to all the people of our local community, our local GAA club Errigal Ciaran, the Tyrone county board, the GAA at Ulster Council level, the GAA at all-Ireland level, the diplomatic people in the southern government, the people in the Assembly here," Mr Harte said.
"People from every sport in this province and in this country have been so gracious in their support of us, and we really appreciate it.
"The prayers and good wishes have really brought us through, because I can't imagine how we would have got through without it."
Clad in black armbands, the Tyrone squad had earlier retreated into a pre-game huddle. Soon, a silence filled the air as fans joined both teams in paying their respects.
As a sharp blast of the referee's whistle signalled the end of the tribute, the silence turned to a huge ovation as Harte walked across to the dugout.
Along the way there was a quick glance to the crowd. It was the type of gesture he had done so many times before, mindful that his beloved Michaela would be among the fans, proudly cheering him on. Only yesterday, she wasn't there.
Afterwards Harte spoke to the assembled press pack. His words were eloquent and typically generous -- beginning with thanks to the thousands who have supported his family over the past fortnight and thanking his players for the manner in which they approached the game.
"They gave of their best, and that's all I can ask of them. That's the best way we can remember the good times that we had, and Michaela was very much part of that, and she will be in the future."
Later, he reaffirmed his intention to carry on as Tyrone boss.
It was a step on the road to normality, but only a step. The journey back will be a long one.