When I was young, between the ages of about 11 and 15, we would go almost every Monday and Tuesday evening to our local youth club, which was run by Mickey Harte.
We would have gymnastics training or play dodgeball or tennis or badminton. All those kinds of things. And I remember one week, we were all getting excited about the upcoming International Rules Series, when Mickey made a throwaway comment to the effect that the Series was ridiculous and detrimental to the GAA.
I was raging. I loved the excitement that surrounded the games: we would spend the afternoon in school trying to get updates and then we’d rush home to watch the recorded version with my Granny and Grandad. I’m pretty sure I pulled a successful sickie on one occasion and got to stay at home and watch it live, with tea and biscuits on tap.
We were probably a little biased in our house because my uncle and our neighbour, Eoin Gormley, were both playing. In those days, when there was no sign of Tyrone lifting Sam Maguire, we were very proud of them representing Ireland and playing on an international stage.
So I was really pissed off with Mickey Harte. They were his neighbours too and I thought he should be supporting them rather than, as my early-teen eyes saw it, insulting them.
But that was and is typical of Mickey Harte: he doesn’t do or say what other people think he should. He doesn’t get involved with the hype and excitement that engulfs the rest of us. He doesn’t get swept away. He stands his ground.
He has a kind of bravery that seems rare to me – that he can remain steadfast in his beliefs without having to shout about it, or defend it or even explain his position.
To me, he gives meaning to the term “courage of convictions”. He embodies the term.
The recent furore that surrounded Tyrone, on the other hand, was the embodiment of nastiness with no conviction.
It typified contemporary debates: from the loud, insulting and tacky fear-mongering of some, to the coarse and horrible language of others, both attacking and defending Tyrone. And, as is typical when the media creates a polarising storm, whether it concerns refugees searching for safe harbour or Kim Kardashian’s backside, many blew to one camp or the other and became galvanised in their views.
But not Mickey. He seemed to stand and take the blows, possibly hurt, surely angry, but he didn’t shout about it. He just carried on with business.
When we were young, (and when I say “we”, I mean my peers: my brother and cousins and childhood friends – Mickey had started losing a few hairs on top at that stage) – when we were young, Mickey ran a lot of things. He was running that youth club. He organised and encouraged cross-community activities at it. He had people in speaking about healthy eating and he spoke about things like “positive thinking”.
He always seemed, to me, to be someone who wanted to make things better and to become better himself.
But he always seemed to be doing things that people disagreed with or that went against what was popular. He was proactive in doing what he believed was the right thing.
That night that I came home from youth club fuming because of what he had said was not the last time I disagreed or even felt a little offended by his views.
This morning, with all that in mind, I watched his post-match interview with BBC and I felt a great heart-swell for the man that is Mickey Harte.
Who remains dignified.
Who, in the same sentence as he discusses defeat, talks about building for the future.
And who stands firm in what he believes. No matter which way the wind blows.
(Last I heard, he still thinks the International Rules Series is rubbish. Raging!)