Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Tyrone fans' affection for Harte undiminished as challenges await

One of the finest demonstrations of how the GAA works can be found when Tyrone play their final league game at home each year.

The team and management will go into the dressing rooms to put on a few layers before emerging again to meet the public in a long, unhurried chance for children to meet their heroes, mug for the cameras and to strengthen their connection.

Last to leave the field on Sunday was Mickey Harte. In his 11th year as Tyrone senior manager, such is the magnetism of the man that the meet and greet features him as the headline act.

It is a heart-warming mutual devotion to behold between a figurehead of a county and their loyal and large support.

In this age of three-year-plans and absolute dedication required to the job of managing an inter-county team, Harte's longevity is awesome.

Brian Cody is into his 15th year in charge of Kilkenny and Sean Boylan served Meath for 23 years. Yet Harte's involvement with Tyrone began with him taking the county minor team from 1991 to 1998, and the under-21 side from '98 to 2002. That's now 22 years unbroken service and such a lifelong commitment is mind-bending.

The queue to greet Harte on Sunday had almost as many adults as children in it. He carries an aura that people are fascinated with.

During Tyrone's sorrowful mysteries over the last 15 years, he has always represented a dignified figure, doing the simple things right.

While he gave succour to many, his own sufferings in recent years have been both deeply personal and yet public in nature. It is for this that people want to reach out.

Watching his easy way with those around him, it is hard to believe that Harte spent so many years as a radical figure of Tyrone GAA, determined and dedicated to the cause of gaining entry to county competitions for the Gaels of Glencull.

In the end, a suitable compromise was found that shows no matter how entrenched people are in their positions, there is no strength without unity; Ní neart go cur le chéile.

Harte could yet be proven right in his assertions over the introduction of the black card, the new rule which should be considered a work in progress.

As a voice in opposition, Harte deserved to be heard and he had ample opportunity. Not all of the media shared his opinion, but then he was wrong to assert that every media voice disagreed with him.

But Harte keeps trucking on, a figure as permanent and inscrutable as Mount Rushmore, heading into perhaps the biggest test of his career.

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