Tyrone will play on... with heavy hearts
All thoughts of football in Tyrone have been put on hold until the Red Hand players convene for tomorrow night’s Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup opener against UUJ.
Devastated captain: Tyrone skipper Brian Dooher spoke at Michaela McAreavey’s funeral yesterday
The public outpouring of grief at yesterday’s funeral of Michaela McAreavey clearly impacted heavily on a number of the players who formed a guard of honour that flanked the hearse.
County board officials, too, who had worked ceaselessly over the course of the past number of days in tandem with the Harte and McAreavey families and the Errigal Ciaran club members to oversee arrangements for the wake and funeral showed the strain of what has been a traumatic period.
The view taken in some quarters in advance of Sunday’s scheduled game against Fermanagh that it might perhaps prove therapeutic was rapidly diluted when the Ulster Council called the game off and Michaela’s remains came home.
Now the staging of a football competition is not seen as having any real relevance although Tyrone will certainly fulfil their Dr McKenna Cup commitments.
After playing UUJ tomorrow night they are due to meet Donegal and then Fermanagh all within the space of a week — a hectic itinerary in normal circumstances but a particularly huge ask given the backcloth against which the Red hands players will be approaching the game.
Assistant manager Tony Donnelly will have the task of striving to lift the players’ spirits tomorrow yet one had only to observe their demeanour yesterday to conclude that sporting activity is not something that would rank high on their agenda just now.
Nor will it be an easy fixture for UUJ to fulfil. Beaten by Donegal on Saturday, they must travel to Healy Park, Omagh, scene of many fine Tyrone triumphs, knowing that the atmosphere will be emotionally-charged and that the outcome of the game will be largely irrevalent.
The Ulster Council has shown dignity and understanding to date — they are naturally keen to see their early-season competition run as smoothly as possible but have already made it clear that they are prepared to be flexible.
Tyrone captain Brian Dooher, who spearheaded the guard of honour and did one of the readings at the Requiem Mass, has been particularly close to Mickey Harte in recent years having captained Tyrone to success in the 2005 and 2008 All Ireland finals and of course had a special affinity with Michaela as had all the players.
Dooher is destined to lead Tyrone again this year but for the moment the Clan na gael clubman, like his county colleagues, is much too preoccupied with the terrible loss that his manager has incurred to focus on on-field activity.
While Tyrone will certainly take their 2011 baptism tonight in what will be a fraught environment, it may be some time before the players recapture the hunger, drive and ambition which have been their trademarks for so long.
On yesterday’s evidence, there is clearly too much hurt there.
The pain of loss that the Harte and McAreavey families are sharing at this moment will clearly be felt by many for some considerable time to come.