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GAA marathon match is a record breaker

24-hour game raises vital funds for the Michaela Foundation and Cancer Focus NI charities

By Declan Bogue

A 24-hour non-stop GAA game has entered the record books -and raised vital funds for charity.

The lung-busting marathon match finally finished yesterday morning at the Tyrone GAA Centre at Garvaghey near Ballygawley.

The idea came about from a collaboration between the Michaela Foundation - the charity set up in the wake of the murder of the daughter of Tyrone manager Mickey Harte while on honeymoon - and Cancer Focus NI.

The ball was thrown in to start the game at 11am on Saturday, and each team had 26 players which they rotated throughout the 24 hours. Referees, umpires, linesmen and score registers worked in shifts to adhere to all rules.

Speaking after, Harte revealed he had stayed at the game until 3am yesterday, returning four hours later.

"It was great how it ended," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

On the exhausted state of the players, Harte explained: "They got a new lease of life in the last hour, or hour and a half. I couldn't believe it. They were like the walking wounded through the night and early in the morning before the day broke.

"But when they saw the new day arrive with more people arriving to watch them play, they got a new lease of life and more energy.

"It's such a credit to them that they kept it going to the end."

Asked if he had feared how the players would stand the pace, Harte continued: "They were going through all sorts of torture when I left, so it was challenging for them. But they helped each other through and they recycled their men well.

"I am very proud of all those people who volunteered to take part, and all the support staff and team around it. It was a wonderful event and people can be very proud of it."

The marathon game came just days before the sixth anniversary of Michaela's murder. She was found dead in the Legends Hotel, Mauritius, by her husband, John McAreavey, in January 2011. The 27-year-old had been strangled.

Mr McAreavey took part in the charity match, playing eight hours straight on Saturday. He said after: "I am feeling good. I'm stiff and sore, but the game has levelled in pace from where it was. It was like a normal league game for the first two hours, which is ridiculous. Overlapping runs, boys hitting into each other, crazy stuff!"

He added: "With all these events you run, you can only do it with volunteers because you do need the numbers.

"The things that we had to get arranged, it was eight weeks planning. Thankfully we have got a good lot of volunteers.

"It's like whenever we did the Match for Michaela (between an Ulster select and Donegal in 2012, which attracted a capacity crowd to Casement Park), young people were attracted to the wackiness of the all-nighters and getting involved. I suppose it's the GAA, the community at work."

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