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Rugby fan Harte is supporting Ireland's World quest

By Phil Blanche

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has given his approval to the Irish Rugby Football Union’s bid to host the World Cup in 2023.

In hosting the tournament, the IRFU will require special dispensation from the GAA to include stadiums such as a redeveloped Casement Park in Belfast and Croke Park.

The GAA have already indicated their desire to assist in the bid, and one of their most prominent public figures has stated how happy he would be to see the Rugby World Cup played here in 2023. “I think it would be a great thing,” said Harte.

“Rugby has been played in Croke Park and it has been opened up to other sports.

“A bid for the World Cup would be good for the country as a whole and if the GAA could be a key stakeholder in making that happen, isn’t that more evidence that the GAA is a mighty organisation in this country?” he asked.

Harte himself has experience of playing rugby, turning out for Omagh Academy in his final year at the Christian Brothers school as he was overage for MacRory Cup Gaelic football, and over the next few years played at full-back, centre and on the wing.

He recounted those seasons in his autobiography 'Presence is the Only Thing', published in 2009, at a time when there was little crossover between Gaelic footballers and rugby, showing how Harte was a mould-breaker even in his schoolboy days.

"I really enjoyed it," he recalled.

"Back in those days, Gaelic footballers were a bigger asset than they would be now because then, people who didn't play Gaelic games weren't very adept at kicking the ball with both feet, and catching the ball.

"I played a bit for Omagh Academicals in the '70s, at a time when there was a long gap between finishing your league campaign with your club and starting the next season.

"Naively, Gaelic players went up to catch the ball like they would in football, but wasn't necessarily a good idea in rugby!"

In recent months, fears have been expressed that inter-county Gaelic football could follow the example of rugby and turn professional, thereby reducing participation at club level.

Examples have been cited in heartlands of New Zealand rugby and in the All-Ireland League.

However, Harte does not see that as a danger to the Association.

"I am an optimistic person and I don't find an awful lot of that in that sort of domain," he answered, before turning his attention to the nature of coverage of the GAA.

"I really do feel there is a serious amount of negativity around reporting and reflecting on Gaelic games," he began.

"I think we need to take a step back. For example, they are not comparing like with like in terms of the quality of games we get sometimes.

"We never saw the games back in the day, we never saw anything on the television until the All-Ireland semi-finals and final. Even then, if you were to compare those games with modern day games, they are not the gold dust that they appeared to be at the time.

"At the time they were gold dust. Like today's games to me are gold dust, but in five to 10 years' time they will be looked upon and there will be deficiencies seen and people will improve on those deficiencies."

He added: "So, I don't think we need worry about that at all and I think it is a case of perception.

"The people in the media have a great chance of changing that perception or perspective. Tell us about all the great things that are going on, the good games that are going on and keep it in context with the past. I think that's the way to go."

Belfast Telegraph

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