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Tyrone manager Mickey Harte's supreme feats mean he has transcended GAA

By Declan Bogue

Published 19/07/2016

Fame game: Mickey Harte receives his Belfast Telegraph Sports Award Hall of Fame trophy from Martin O’Neill and Belleek Living’s Rachael Weir
Fame game: Mickey Harte receives his Belfast Telegraph Sports Award Hall of Fame trophy from Martin O’Neill and Belleek Living’s Rachael Weir

In January 2014, Mickey Harte attended the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

As he made his way to the stage, Harte received an instant standing ovation. Normally these things begin tentatively with one or two in local tables and spread, but this time everyone promptly rose from their seats.

It was most extraordinary. This was not a GAA function. It's safe to say that a lot of people in the crowd wouldn't be from GAA backgrounds, but it was the clearest indication of how Mickey Harte - the man - transcends sport.

Of course, his level of fame was achieved through his sporting successes. But the level of empathy people have for him comes from his dignity and suffering after the murder of his daughter Michaela while on honeymoon in early 2011.

That January night, sporting figures such as AP McCoy and Mark Anscombe competed with everyone else for a bit of Harte's time, just to talk with the man, pass on their congratulations, make some kind of a connection.

While the years since have undoubtedly been painful for him, he has had little relief from the football side of his life. His team were evolving painfully and, while making two All-Ireland semi-finals in 2013 and 2015, has endured raw defeats in Ulster.

Off the pitch, those involved with Tyrone have been the subject of some skewed commentary. Harte's refusal to engage with RTÉ's Sunday Game has preceded some stinging criticism from columnists who also happen to be RTÉ pundits.

Fouls and acts of simulation that Tyrone players committed have become national incidents due to the hysterical reactions of some. No wonder Tyrone bristled when they saw other players get the feather duster treatment for similar acts in recent weeks.

None of that deters Harte. This season is his 25th consecutive year being involved in Tyrone county teams, starting with the 1991 minors.

That year, he insisted his players turn up to play in the Championship wearing shirt and tie. When he handed over the county jersey, it was a ceremony in its own right. After a match, the players would return the jersey, folded, to the kit man. The jersey is an article of faith, a symbol of something sacred.

Nowadays, the Tyrone team still observe the same customs.

In Harte's earliest years, he had a policy that if the Tyrone County Board wanted him, they got his whole family. They would all attend training sessions and he had no end of jobs for his children to attend to.

Michaela would assemble the team's mix-tape, getting the song choices from players for listening to on the way to games.

When Mickey felt his team could benefit from being able to sing the Irish National Anthem just as well as southern opponents, it was Michaela who printed off sheets with the words in phonetic spelling.

Fitting too, that now he is back in the winner's enclosure, photographers were able to capture precious moments of him with his grandchildren, Liam and Michael. Sons of Mickey's son Michael, who happens to be the team physio.

It's still a family affair, it still means as much to him as ever.

Who wouldn't be drawn to that?

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