Tuesday 12 December 2017

Harte's decency shines through the dark days

Eamonn Sweeney

The shooting dead of Aloysius Hackett in Augher has a distinctly tragic cast to it. Much more than that we cannot say given that his son Seán has been charged with murder.

However, the other members of the family still wanted Seán to attend the funeral. And on Tuesday at Omagh Magistrates Court Mr Justice Horner granted the 18-year-old, who last year captained Tyrone to the Ulster minor football title, compassionate bail to do so. Among the conditions imposed was that the accused would be accompanied by two chaperons. One was his solicitor, Desmond Fahy, the other was Mickey Harte.

There can be few people on this island more intimately acquainted with tragedy than Mickey Harte. It has been his companion since the day in June 1997 when Paul McGirr was fatally injured when playing for Tyrone against Armagh in the Ulster minor championship. Harte was manager that day as he was when Tyrone seniors won a first ever All-Ireland in 2003.

No one on that Tyrone team was better than Cormac McAnallen. And no Irish sporting death rocked the country like that of McAnallen from heart failure on March 2 the following year. He was just 24.

Harte and his players were visibly shaken by the loss of their great team-mate yet they regrouped to win two more All-Irelands. During those campaigns the manager was regularly accompanied by his daughter Michaela. She took obvious pleasure in her father's victories and he in her company. It seemed like the very ideal of a father-daughter relationship. The news of Michaela's brutal murder in January 2011 at the age of 27 while on honeymoon in Mauritius with her husband John McAreavey was enough to break the stoniest of hearts.

To those of us lucky enough not to have suffered the loss of a child, the pain inflicted on Mickey Harte seemed both unimaginable and unbearable.

It would have been understandable if his spirit had been crushed and he'd stayed out of the public eye and away from anything which reminded him of his own personal tragedy. The appalling shambles of a trial which followed Michaela's murder was another cruel imposition on a man already overburdened with grief.

Yet Mickey Harte bore this load with a quiet dignity and a forbearance which won him the admiration of the people of Ireland. And when PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr was murdered by dissident republicans just a few months after Michaela McAreavey's death, Mickey Harte was among the GAA figures who shouldered the young Tyrone man's coffin in a moving show of the Association's rejection of such violence.

So perhaps it was no surprise that when the Hackett family needed a friend last week it was Mickey Harte who once more stepped forward to help.

I'm not sure that there is any man in Irish sport, or indeed on the island of Ireland, as worthy of our affection as Mickey Harte. He is a religious man who obviously draws great strength from his faith. And he bears vivid witness to that faith by the serenity with which he has carried himself in the face of tragedy.

He also happens to be one of the greatest football managers of all-time, one of a handful of bosses who've steered teams to three or more Sam Maguires, on each occasion overcoming a Kerry team of undeniable greatness along the way. That shouldn't be forgotten. It's an integral part of who he is.

To see him last week step into the breach in circumstances which must have stirred up painful memories for him was to once more witness a man with uncommon resources of common decency. Mickey Harte is also a modest man and public approbation probably doesn't mean a lot to him. But I hope he knows how much he is loved.

I am humbled by the grace of Mickey Harte. I think we all are.

Sunday Indo Sport

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