Northern Ireland news

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte encouraged prayers and Mass attendance ahead of games, Sean Cavanagh reveals

Sean Cavanagh has spoken of his relationship with Tyrone manager Mickey Harte in an interview with the Sunday Independent. Picture by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile.
Paul Ainsworth

FORMER Tyrone senior football captain Sean Cavanagh has offered insight into the religious practices of the county team, describing how players were expected to attend Mass before Championship games and given personal Rosary beads.

Cavanagh, who retired last year, described the manager, devout Catholic Mickey Harte, as "autocratic". He said Harte encouraged his players to take part in prayers and attend Mass, despite his own beliefs that religion should be "private".

Cavanagh has previously been critical of Harte's management style, while the Tyrone boss has also caused upset by claiming in his autobiography that Cavanagh "caved in" to pressure, prompting Harte to leave him on the bench during the 2009 All-Ireland semi final.

In response to being asked about how Harte "imposes" his beliefs on the team, Cavanagh said: "No-one on our team objected to it. 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. 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."

The 35-year-old said players attended Mass "before every single Championship game", adding: "Everyone was given Rosary beads at the start of the year, and you did the Rosary before the team meal."

He went on: "It's not for everybody but 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."

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Cavanagh, who runs an accountancy firm, also hit out at the culture of violence in the GAA.

He described how one player repeatedly targeted him during an Ulster Championship semi final, spitting in his face, biting him, and nipping him "repeatedly and violently". After the referee failed to take action, Cavanagh said he was "inconsolable" in the dressing room at half-time.

"It's accepted because it's been happening for so long," he said of pitch violence.

"That's the reality. And it's something I've witnessed form an early age. That's why at times, I preferred basketball."

The revelations were made in a wide-ranging interview with sports journalist Paul Kimmage in the Sunday Independent, coinciding with the publication of the footballer's new autobiography 'The Obsession'.

Cavanagh also discussed his political beliefs when pressed on his national identity.

"I would probably call myself Irish," Cavanagh said.

"I'm a director of the company here and when you go on to the companies (register) it asks for your nationality and I answered it 'Irish'."

He added: "The political thing is frustrating at times...I think most people in Northern Ireland are progressive and open-minded and don't see it as an issue, but others unfortunately do."

And in an interview in The Irish News on Monday, Cavanagh opens up about his mental healths struggles.

In his autobiography My Obsession, he explains in detail how much of a toll the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo took on him and his family.

After driving home from Dublin he got out of the car once they reached The Moy, leaving his keys, wallet and phone behind before setting off on foot towards Benburb as darkness began to fall.

A taximan discovered him in Dungannon at 1.20am and took him home, numb with shock and shivering.

“When you put anything into the public domain, you’re open to criticism and open to people seeing another side to you, which I hope people will enjoy. It’s very open about some of my emotions, my feelings and how I struggled,” he tells the Irish News.

“I wish whenever I was 17 or 18 I’d had something there to guide me through some tough days – before matches, after matches.

“In a world now where mental health is a huge issue, it really hit home to

me how I wish somebody had been able to come to me and say to me ‘this is perfectly normal, there’s nothing here to worry about’.

“The more I spoke about some of my feelings before and after games, and in between games, after certain events in my life, I realised there was a pattern to the way I reacted to defeats – or reacted even sometimes to winning games. That I maybe was never happy."

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