Saturday 10 December 2016

She was the loyal soulmate who predicted his success

Published 11/01/2011 | 05:00

The very first page of 'Kicking Down Heaven's Door', Mickey Harte's insightful diary of the 2003 season when Tyrone swept all before them to win National Football League, Ulster and All-Ireland football titles, contains a handwritten page listing a series of aims that, at the time, looked a little far-fetched for a county not accustomed to so much success.

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The page was written by Michaela Harte, the then 13-year-old daughter of Mickey, who gazed into the future and saw nothing but success for her father and, by extension, herself.

It was dated 'Sept '97', the day after Tyrone's All-Ireland minor final defeat by Laois.

And Michaela, even by then her father's trusted football soulmate, wanted to draw on the positives.

Mickey had considered stepping down as Tyrone's minor manager. It had been an extremely challenging year for all associated with Tyrone GAA after the tragic death of one of the members of the minor squad, Paul McGirr, who never recovered from a collision with an opponent in a first-round match against Armagh in Omagh.

But he relented and that night Michaela got to work on a series of predictions that would change the face of Tyrone football forever.

For illustration purposes, Michaela wrote at the top of the page that "we" was the father and daughter team (Mickey and Michaela Harte). The possibility of "Fr G" (Fr Gerald McAleer, Mickey's assistant for all the subsequent triumphs) being part of that team was also raised.

Down the page, the 13-year-old made three predictions, the genesis of which was that that "special" 1997 team, would all come through with uncanny accuracy.

Within 12 months, as predicted, Tyrone were back to win the All-Ireland minor title with a team that would form the bedrock of their future triumphs, featuring players like Owen Mulligan, Stephen O'Neill, Brian McGuigan and Cormac McAnallen.

Two years later, Tyrone won the All-Ireland under-21 title. Just as Michaela prophesied.

And just over three years later, right on cue, the third prediction came true when Tyrone claimed their first-ever All-Ireland title.

As the story of 2003 through the eyes of Mickey Harte evolves, the "faith" shown in him by his daughter is never far away from his thoughts.

On the night that he was informed he had been appointed Tyrone manager in November 2002, Mickey recalls how Michaela had been anxiously ringing home from Belfast to ascertain if there had been news.

The bond between Mickey Harte and his only daughter was clearly a very strong one to anyone who has read that book or watched their glorious march in 2003.

Before the final whistle sounded on that September evening, Mickey was already thinking of the company of his daughter to share in the moment.

"There's still a minute left in an All-Ireland final yet I'm saying to Paddy Tally, 'Where's Michaela'," he recalled.

At the final whistle Mickey, always the most courteous and obliging of managers, memorably refused to conduct any interview until his daughter with the clairvoyant powers was by his side having being blocked by stewards from entering the pitch.

Only when they were reunited could he allow himself to celebrate and reflect on how the predictions from 2003 had been realised.

Michaela Harte's presence by her father's side beneath the Hogan Stand became a powerful image of Tyrone's repeated successes in Croke Park over the decade.

That image was one of the things touched upon by one of Harte's former inter-county managerial colleagues John O'Mahony, Fine Gael's spokesman on sport, who issued a note of condolence to the family last night.

"Michaela was such a recognisable figure with her dad Mickey when Tyrone made the breakthrough to All-Ireland senior success in 2003 and many years in advance she had forecast the victory of the team under her dad's guidance.

"I have known the Harte family for years and my thoughts are with them on this unspeakably sad day."

Mickey Harte has known much tragedy in recent years. For him personally, there can be nothing worse than this.

Irish Independent

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