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GAA manager shared his faith with team, says former captain

Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte shared his Catholic faith with his team, encouraging players to attend Mass and pray the Rosary, a former Tyrone senior football captain has revealed.

Sean Cavanagh, a three-time All-Ireland winner with Tyrone, said despite some players not wanting to go to Mass before a big game, no-one objected to their devout Catholic manager’s wishes of attending Mass before every championship game.

While admitting that he thinks religious beliefs should be private, Cavanagh, a practising Catholic, made it clear that he had no problem with Harte sharing his faith with the team and acknowledged that it actually helped bring the team closer together.

“No-one on our team objected to it,” Cavanagh told Irish sports journalist Paul Kimmage in an interview published in The Sunday Independent.

“Did everyone want to go to Mass before big games? No they didn’t, but it maybe suited us at times in that it brought us closer together,” he added. “I’m a practising Catholic so it didn’t bother me but I can see how others might have an issue with it. I think religion is a private thing, I would never push it on anyone.”
Cavanagh, who retired from inter-county football last year, also revealed that all of the players were given rosary beads at the start of the year and prayed the Rosary before the team meal.

“I think most players were happy to go along with it because it was Mickey, and something he believed in, and Tyrone have always been an incredibly bonded team. It was very rare you’d have someone going rogue or not toeing the line,” he said.

Harte has previously spoken out about his beliefs, encouraging Catholics to be as proud of their faith as GAA supporters are of their jerseys.

“Why should we not be as proud of our Catholic faith as we are of our club colours? As Catholics we are part of the biggest team in the world and we should be proud of that,” he told a religious conference in Limerick in 2016. “We should be able to say this is who I am and this is what I believe. In a game there are all sorts of little battles within it. It’s the same in life. Life gives you some challenges and with the help of God you manage it.”

During the conference Harte also highlighted the support he had received from both his faith and the GAA when he had to come to terms with the deaths of his two brothers and the tragic murder of his daughter, Michaela McAreavey, while she was on her honeymoon in Mauritius in January 2011.

When questioned whether this was one of the reasons players refused to object to Harte’s wishes, Cavanagh said: “There’s no-one in the world that couldn’t be sympathetic with his situation, and the horror of what happened to him, but I would like to think that he’s as open to criticism as anyone is. It doesn’t make him immune.”

Cavanagh’s autobiography, The Obsession, was published earlier this month. In it he writes about his childhood during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, his relationship with Harte and his GAA career.

Picture: Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte. (Niall Carson/PA).