Tyrone County Board chairman Ciaran McLaughlin last night urged “the entire community” to continue to support the Harte and McAreavey families long after Michaela McAreavey has been laid to rest on Monday.
And in a direct message to the GAA clubs in the O’Neill County McLaughlin declared: “It is up to each and every one of you to give a lead in this connection and to show whatever support you can for as long as you can.
“We are experiencing unprecedented grief right now but let us not forget that the Hartes and the McAreaveys will go on experiencing this for an awful long time to come.”
With the two families, the Errigal Ciaran club and the county board combining to oversee arrangements for Michaela’s funeral, Strabane man McLaughlin has requested everyone to put football to the back of their minds.
“We initially entered 2011 full of optimism with talk of Tyrone maybe making it a hat-trick of Ulster titles and perhaps capturing the Sam Maguire Cup for the fourth time. But that has now been replaced by grim reality.
“There are not words in the English language that can do justice to the depth of the grief which has afflicted the Hartes and the McAreaveys.
“If that does not put football and everything associated with it into perspective then I really don’t know what does,” stated McLaughlin.
And he has hailed the response of the general public from throughout the country to the families’ plight as “simply overwhelming”.
McLaughlin said: “The number of texts, e-mails, cards and letters has been utterly phenomenal to date.
“They are coming in from every quarter and over today and tomorrow we expect that thousands of mourners will visit the Harte family home to pay their respects to Michaela.
“We would expect that Monday’s funeral will be one of the biggest ever seen in the province.”
Errigal Ciaran club chairman Cathal McAnenly, who was assistant to manager Raymond Munroe when Tyrone won the All Ireland Minor title last year, recalled Michaela’s delight when the trophy was brought home.
“Like everyone else she was overjoyed — you could see it meant an awful lot to her. We were so proud to have won because of the joy that it brought but now that achievement counts for little because of the horrific backcloth against which we all find ourselves,” said McAnenly.
In tandem with his vice-chairman Tommy Traynor, McAnenly — one of the most capable legislators in the province — is helping to oversee the detailed arrangements for the funeral as well as attending to a miscellany of other tasks.
“We are all in this together — nobody would be quicker to put his shoulder to the wheel than Mickey Harte himself,” added McAnenly.
Tyrone are not due to go into action until Wednesday next when they will meet UUJ in their opening Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup tie at Healy Park, Omagh when assistant manager Tony Donnelly and trainer Fergal McCann will be in charge of the team.
But as speculation continues as to whether Mickey Harte will continue in charge, chairman McLaughlin has a very emphatic answer to that.
“Look, this is a time for grieving but I suppose it’s inevitable that there will be conjecture about the future.
“It is as simple as this — Mickey Harte will assume control of the Tyrone team when he and only he decides. It will be his call totally. He has given too much of himself on behalf of this county and I would suggest that people should just take each day as it comes, allow the healing process to continue for the two families and desist from idle speculation,” rapped McLaughlin.
Meanwhile the Ulster Council has, perhaps unwittingly, thrown down the gauntlet to those sides with serious ambitions of actually winning the McKenna Cup as opposed to using the competition as a stepping stone for the National League.
Managers have been wringing their hands in frustration of late because their teams have been unable to sample action but this famine could shortly be translated into a feast of sorts for at least two of them.
With several teams due to play today in the competition and all sides set to participate in a full programme of floodlit matches on Wednesday, the McKenna Cup is finally destined to be up and running.
But with another full programme listed for next weekend, further games listed for Wednesday, January 26 and the semi-finals pencilled in for January 29, this means that some teams could find themselves playing four games in 10 days.
And it does not end there. The National League is due to get under way over the course of the weekend of February 5/6 but the following weekend has been ear-marked as a closed date from a football perspective.
However, the Ulster Council has confirmed that the McKenna Cup final will now go ahead on Saturday, February 12 and the finalists will not have time to catch their breath before resuming National League activity over the weekends of February 19/20 and 26/27.
Indeed, the two teams that reach the McKenna Cup final will, as things stand, find themselves playing eight games in a six-week period — all in sharp contrast to the marked lull we have been experiencing in activity lately.