Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Declan Bogue: Michaela leaves lasting legacy

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness

Going for a cup of tea on Saturday night, a Dublin journalist and I had underestimated the size of the crowd gathered at the back of the stand in Casement Park.



The tea stands were bunged so we went to make our return to the press box, only to be stopped by a pressurised steward who told us to stand to one side.

Three Range Rovers pulled up outside the main entrance, and First Minister Peter Robinson emerged from one before trotting over to the door. There was no surprise that he was there, no great ceremony or fuss.

My Dublin colleague even greeted him with a 'Well, Peter', and received an acknowledgement back. To him, his presence was no big deal. To me, the big deal was in how much of a humdrum occurrence something like this has become.

Despite the events of last week, we cannot forget the leaps forward society has made here.

Peter Robinson's presence in Casement Park was just another example of the draw of the 'Match for Michaela' premise. We saw on the days after her awful death how much support the Harte and McAreavey families received with the enormous attendances at her wake and funeral.

But sometimes, that is just not enough. Something that has been said over the past few weeks is how out of something so terrible, beauty has been borne from it. That beauty takes many forms.

In the match programme for Saturday night, there was a piece on the reaction of Kerry fans as they waited for the Tyrone team to emerge from their dressing rooms after that qualifier defeat in Killarney during the summer.

As they did, the fans applauded what were great champions, but the applause rang out loudest and at its' most sustained when Mickey Harte emerged. It followed them through the town as the bus inched it's way forward. People just wanted to show their support for fellow GAA members.

Hosting a game of this kind was a brave idea, superbly staged with every last detail thought of. It gave followers both dedicated and casual a chance to express their support for the families and be part of a culture that looks after its' own.

The capital raised by the 'Match for Michaela' will be put to good use.

In that area of Tyrone where the last year's Michaela Summer Camp was held, it's safe to say that there is very little but GAA. And that's enough for the locals, who are steeped in the Association.

For example, the nearest cinema, swimming pool or leisure centre are all 15 miles away. That means there is a lot of downtime to be filled by teenagers over the summer holidays, given that part-time jobs are so scarce now.

A 'Michaela Centre', which proposes to impart the interests of the person it honours is a wonderful resource in prospect. Parents in the locality will have a chance to send their girls somewhere for a few weeks over the summer. While there, they will be able to enjoy themselves in a secure environment, while also picking up the Irish language and learning about other core values, such as fashion and faith.

It's not just for GAA activities, which is a crucial element.

The recently-released 'Jim Stynes — My Journey' autobiography touches on the former AFL player's work as founder of the Reach Foundation; a scheme devised by Stynes in order for troubled Australian teenagers to be able to communicate with each other in a non-judgemental way.

It seems to me that now, in these days of unmonitored online-bullying and disturbing rates of suicide among children, we need programmes and centres of this kind. More than ever. Growing up in an environment of more and more contact among your peers, and less guidance from your elders demands it.

Mickey Harte is known as a man of unwavering beliefs, but he stops short of judging those who do not share them, nor does he force it upon others. Instead, he offers others to take a glimpse at the good in things.

As a realist, he knows that not everyone will agree with him, but as he said in the lead-up to Saturday night's match; “Sometimes people are bombarded with the ways that aren't good because that's easy, easy to portray that and it seems to sell… we can show people and young people in particular there's another way of life that you might explore.”

As a teacher, Michaela has been praised for her pastoral guidance. Fitting then that in death that guidance should be her legacy.

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