Right in the middle of the bleak mid-winter came the shocking news last week that Mickey Harte's beautiful daughter Michaela had been brutally murdered in a million-to-one incident in Mauritius.
The news, which I first heard on Monday afternoon, has caused deep trauma and upset in every one of the 32 counties, but the distress that we feel as part of the GAA is as nothing compared with the nightmare that the Harte and McAreavey families are going through.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Michaela once when I was manager of Westmeath and we played Tyrone in a National League match in Mullingar.
After the match, Michaela was with the Dolan family and I had the opportunity to have a good chat with her on that occasion. Not only was she a very beautiful and intelligent girl, but she was totally engrossed in the GAA and the Irish language. What a terrible tragedy and loss.
I hope and believe that Mickey Harte will continue his great work with the Tyrone team. Mickey revolutionised Gaelic football on a similar scale to the transformation brought about by Mick O'Dwyer with the Kerry team in the 1970s, but these two great managers fostered very different styles of play. Mickey moved Gaelic football into a new era of never-ending support play, attacking in waves, and always seeming to have an extra man available.
Mick O'Dwyer in his era brought Kerry to new levels of fitness and played to the strengths of the side, such as the towering presence of Bomber Liston in the full-forward line.
Apart from high balls to make the most of the Bomber's prowess, Mick instilled in us the belief that the ball must be taken at pace so that if you didn't get a score you were likely to get a free anyway.
I have to say that when I watched Mickey Harte on television last week supported by his two sons and speaking from the heart about Michaela, I was moved to tears.
To lose a child in any circumstances is a terrible tragedy but for her life to be cut short while on honeymoon and at such a young age must be unbearable. At 27, she had her whole life ahead of her. A job she loved, a new home to make her own and after marrying into Down football she would have had had two counties who required her support.
Michaela was a role model to children both in St Patrick's Academy where she taught Irish and religious studies and in her old school St Malachy's. In fact, Michaela was a role model for young kids all around the country.
In 2004, she spent a few weeks down here in Kerry representing Ulster in the Rose of Tralee. Mickey went with her everywhere. It was payback for all the matches Michaela went to -- she hadn't missed a game in 17 years.
Mickey Harte has brought home three All-Irelands in six years for Tyrone. Michaela was always by his side. She was one of the few people who was allowed into the dressing room when he talked to the players. It was obvious to the nation that Mickey Harte loved his daughter, he glowed with pride when she was near.
Although Tyrone broke many Kerry hearts over the last ten years, we never held any ill feelings towards Mickey Harte.
Those images of him standing side by side with his only daughter after winning the Sam Maguire made us feel happy -- albeit a little envious -- because that picture stood for much more than winning. It personified a deep and loving relationship between a father and his daughter. We must not forget her mother Marian and the rest of the Harte family to whom we extend deepest sympathy.
On another tragic note, one of West Kerry's greatest figures Dr Micheál Fanning from Dingle passed away on Christmas Eve. Micheál has left a great legacy
which must be carried on -- his courageous crusade for better medical resources for the people of West Kerry, and the unique Féile na Bealtaine, a powerful amalgam of the arts, politics and current affairs.
I played with Micheál on the St Brendan's, Killarney team which lost to Coláiste íosagáin, Ballyvourney in the Munster Colleges final of 1971. Micheál would have probably made it to the Kerry minors that year but instead he chose to spend the summer in the USA.
Micheál wrote to editor Aengus Fanning on November 30 last and a couple of lines from that provides an insight into his philosophy of life. He wrote: "By now I live a quiet, secluded life on the periphery of the world in one sense, and on the other hand very centred on the west Kerry peninsula. But I enjoy and need peripherality and privacy. But ironically as a writer I need some notice to be taken of my work!"
Micheál Fanning, medical practitioner, poet, and crusader for the people, is irreplaceable. He will not be forgotten and I personally have lost a great friend and ally.
Sunday Indo Sport