THERE is no doubt in Mickey Harte’s mind that Paul McGirr would have shared in the All-Ireland glories which many of his teammates from the 1997 county minors went on to enjoy.
Six All-Ireland titles at Minor, U-21 and senior level followed for the Red Hand county and the current senior manager believes that the death of the young Dromore player provided the spark for a glorious era.
According to Mickey Harte, it is fair to assume that Paul McGirr would have become an integral part of a golden generation of footballers.
“I do believe that Paul’s death sparked something in Tyrone that I’m not sure would have happened otherwise,” he said.
“While the Minor team in 1997 didn’t win the All-Ireland, it really grew in stature and a lot of serious characters who came out of that team were very central to winning All-Irelands at U-21 and senior level.
“You cannot let something like what happened to Paul become a crusade that must have an outcome which says you’ll win a particular cup. That can never be guaranteed.
“But what you can say, and hope for, is that people deliver the best of themselves if they want to honour someone.
To that extent, Paul’s death and what followed was the genesis of that attitude.
During that year those players stood up tall and went to the All-Ireland Final which they could have won.
What they did and how they carried themselves from that day forward was really the core of why Tyrone has been as successful since that time.
“I also have no doubt that Paul would have been part of the U-21 and senior teams.
He obviously had the ability and capacity to be one of those players who would have come right through the ranks.
“It is of course a hypothetical question but if you ask me would he have been one of those players to progress and still be a very valuable player, then I’d say he would.”
Mickey Harte first came into contact with Paul McGirr as manager of the Errigal Ciaran U-12s in the early 1990s and remembers his footballing ability quickly becoming apparent.
“We had a very good U-12 team in Errigal Ciaran in the early 1990s that Paul was part of.
“But then the next time I came across him he was playing with Dromore’s U-14s and they beat us in a league final after extra time,” he added.
“Trials for the Tyrone Minors were held at the start of 1997 and I soon knew that Paul was going to be an integral part of the team.
“He was a good fielder, comfortable on the ball and could take scores.
“Those were important attributes for a half-forward at that time.
“He was also very brave, and unfortunately that ultimately led to what happened on that particular day in 1997.
“I’ll never forget that day, but that’s life and it’s challenging,” the Tyrone manager added.