Devotion: A Memoir by Mickey Harte as told to Brendan Coffey (Harper-Collins Ireland , €24.99/£21.99)
Owing to his role as manager of the Tyrone senior football team, the face of Mickey Harte is one of the most recognisable in the country. This book leaves one in no doubt about the truly remarkable character of the person behind that face.
Mickey was born at Ballymacilroy, near Ballygawley, in Co. Tyrone on October 19, 1954. He was educated at the Christian Brothers Grammar School in Omagh. After qualifying at St Joseph’s Teachers Training college, Belfast, he was a member of the staff in De La Salle Boys’ School in Kilcubbin, Co. Down, from 1976 to 1981 and St Ciaran’s School, Ballygawley, from 1981 to 2003.
His time attending St Joseph’s coincided with some of the worst periods of the conflict in the North. He and his friend Tony Donnelly resided on the Whiterock Road in West Belfast. As they travelled to and from lectures they occasionally heard bombs exploding and saw smoke rising from the distance. And in the course of one day they could be stopped and rigorously searched five times by a police or British Army patrol.
From their earlier years Mickey and his siblings were active members of Errigal Ciarán, their local GAA club. As the PE teacher in St Ciaran’s he led the school to a number of national titles in the All-Ireland Vocational School Football Championship. He took over the management of the Tyrone minor and under-21 football teams in 1991 and led both to All-Ireland titles. Appointed by the county board manager of the Tyrone senior team, he served in that capacity from 2002 to 2020.
During his stewardship the Tyrone football team had unprecedented success; winning twelve McKenna Cups, one National League and three All-Ireland Senior Championships. On departing from the Tyrone management his enthusiasm for preparing teams for important matches remained undimmed and he took on responsibility for the Louth senior footballers in 2020. Mickey is regarded as one of the best coaches and tacticians in the modern game.
With Jim McGuinness, the coach of the Donegal team, he changed the way the game is played. So GAA followers will be particularly interested in his description of the meticulous manner in which he prepares teams.
Apart from his successes on the playing fields, Mickey had to cope with his own measure of failures and disappointments and he had to face a more than usual measure of tragedies. There was the tragic loss of his daughter Michaela and the sudden and unexpected death of players Paul McGirr and Cormac McAnallen.
Paul was a member of Mickey’s Tyrone minor team of 1997. He was injured in their match with Armagh, stretchered off and taken to hospital. After the match Mickey went to visit him in the hospital. He found him laid out dead still wearing his Tyrone gear, with his stunned parents holding each other beside the bed. Cormac McAnallen was shaping up to be an outstanding Tyrone footballer and died with a suddenness that startled everyone.
Mickey has never, it seems, got over the loss of his daughter Michaela, murdered in Mauritius, while on her honeymoon. His loss is compounded by the failure to ensure that the crime was properly investigated and resolved. So his struggle to get justice in the matter continues.
In this inspiring memoir Mickey relates much about the Harte family and the Tyrone footballing family. He records the reasons for his personal boycott of RTÉ. And throughout the narrative he shows that for him the most important element of his life is his Catholic Faith.