At the end of the day during which Cormac McAnallen died, these wheels rumbled out for a pint. Their driver in a numb, almost confused, state. That might seem strange considering Cormac wasn’t known to me personally. Indeed, only once had he been seen playing in the flesh. On what was actually a tough day for Tyrone as they lost to Sligo in Croke Park.
The gist of the conversation around the counter might surprise some – it was thus: ‘Put your money on Tyrone to lift Sam, now!’Daft, you might think, but sadly, there was ‘form’ for such things from the past. After Paul McGirr passed away some years before, the Red Hand minors duly did take home the Tom Markham Cup. Proclamations prophesised that mournful night did eventually come through, albeit it after a year.
On the January 2011 night that shook the entire country, two thirds of the journey was the same. The numbness, disbelief and confusion. The huddle around the counter. Mickey Harte’s only daughter, Michaela McAreevey was dead. Everything so much more horribly magnified as she had been brutally slain while on her honeymoon. I remember remarking to Eoghan D’Arcy behind the bar “You know what I’m thinking”. He reckoned there wasn’t a hope (of Tyrone lifting Sam) this time round. It was easy to understand.
For all the long suffering people of Tyrone had been through, this was different. The sense has been that managing his county his kept Mickey going. Michaela’s influence on his management of Tyrone teams was both well documented and incalculable. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting the late teacher, the manner in which she touched the lives of everyone she met was obvious. Indeed, those of us who never met her felt touched by her glow in some way too.
It was always odds on that some form of memorial to Michaela would be established. So came around the Michaela Foundation and the starting of summer camps for girls that are seemingly going to be rolled out throughout the country. This corner always hoped there’d be something in GAA to honour her memory too.
To that end, the ‘Match For Michaela’ recently staged in Belfast was a great thing. When newly installed All Ireland kingpins Donegal took on an Ulster selection put together by Joe Kernan. Not surprisingly, nobody had to be asked twice to turn out at this unfashionable time of year. Some players even apologised for their unavailability.
Mickey Harte’s dislike for challenge matches is well documented. That meant that the game to honour his daughter was always going to be fairly competitive. Everybody likes claiming the scalp of the reigning champions and while, essentially, and rightly, the result on the night was irrelevant, at times it was a feisty affair which was ultimately decided by a fortuitous goal from Marty Penrose and a scrappy one from Darren Hughes of Monaghan.
Two things struck me in the aftermath of the event – firstly the passion lads had for wearing the Ulster jersey (not to mention the opportunity to take down one of their own as champions) and secondly, that the possibility of making the ‘Match For Michaela’ an annual event should be investigated. A tweet to that effect was posted shortly after the game and it was serially re-tweeted so plenty most hold the same view.
Those with the power to do so should grasp the chance for a poignant permanent memorial. On reflection however, there may be an opportunity to do something even greater than one match a year. Now, while the occupant of this seat would vehemently disagree with Mickey’s opposition to the International Rules Series (remember that?), his views regarding revitalising the interprovincial championships would be agreed with wholeheartedly. As was said earlier, it’s obvious the passion the passion players have for wearing the colours of the province. And the games between the provinces have no greater champion than Ulster manager Joe Kernan.
You can probably sense where I’m heading with this. With it seemingly having been decided to do away with the name ‘Railway Cup’ why not – with the consent and backing of sponsor Martin Donnelly obviously – re-brand the interprovincial championships the Michaela McAreevey Cup?
Poignancy alone would draw people to it. It would be hoped, though, that the very last statement wouldn’t be viewed cynically. There was a group set up a while back charged, basically, with coming up with a reason why the competition should be maintained. Here, they have an open goal in front of them.
Some might claim that it would be just making money from Michaela’s memory. Such an argument couldn’t be bought. Indeed, the mere idea is reprehensible. Rather, it’s about preserving an important part of the makeup of the GAA whilst, more importantly, creating an everlasting way for the GAA to honour the memory and legacy of a beautiful young woman.
For it was through the GAA she touched the lives of so many. Let’s hope those that can do so make it happen.