Cavanagh determined to make up for Tyrone's six lost years
Published 05/07/2016 | 02:30
Six years of painful separation has left Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh vowing that he and his county will never take the Ulster Championship for granted again.
In 2010, Brian Dooher was the last man to lift the Anglo-Celt Cup for Mickey Harte's side - their third crown in four years at that point.
Nobody could have foreseen that Tyrone would not reach their next final for six seasons. Now they are back in the decider by virtue of their comprehensive five-goal filleting of Cavan in the semi-final replay.
Cavanagh recalls that evening and the sense of detachment now with bemusement.
"I can remember back in '07, '09, 2010, standing here after winning the Anglo Celt Cup and saying, 'do you know what, it doesn't make a difference?' It was a step along the journey," says the 33-year-old chartered accountant.
"It's been a long time since that happened and we did take it for granted. We know that winning it again would be a big feather in our cap.
"The likes of Mattie Donnelly, Tiernan McCann - guys who are fantastic footballers - haven't won Ulster an medal and they are going to be chomping at the bit.
"That's all we can look towards and, if we can do that, it will be another success along the way. But it's going to be a huge challenge."
With Monaghan and Donegal being on the same side of the draw this year, this represents a dream Ulster final pairing. Neighbours, with no love lost.
The statistic that jumps out is that, while Tyrone have not made it to the final for the past six seasons, Donegal have shown up every single year. And within that time frame, they have beaten Tyrone the four times they have met.
"Whenever you are repeatedly losing to any team, whether it's Donegal or anyone else, it is always painful. They have had that upper hand and fair play to them," says Cavanagh.
"They have had a serious five or six years and you would just hope at some stage the tide would turn and it would be our chance.
"They have been able to go to the well whenever they needed to against good teams like Monaghan, and as much as we have done reasonably well this year we haven't played a Division 1 team, so it's another step in the ladder and you have to climb that ladder to get to where you want to go."
From the team that lost to Donegal in that changing-of-the-guard semi-final in 2011, only Peter Harte along with the Cavanagh and McMahon brothers remain.
Along with Cathal McCarron, they are the only players in the squad who have featured in an Ulster final.
Asked if they are a better team now, Cavanagh responds: "We definitely have the runners. We have serious running power. The way the game has gone you need that.
"It's a different game, our size is different, personnel is different and you would hope that it will go a long way towards helping us to get a different result."
As for the lack of Ulster final experience and the captain's role in talking team-mates through the next fortnight, Cavanagh flips the logic on its head.
"There are two sides to that. You would hope there is a certain hunger now within our squad and that they will take that with them into the final," he says.
"If it's an Ulster final or a first round against Derry in the rain, you always try to pass on any wee nuggets of knowledge you have or experiences you have had along the way.
"Every game takes on a life of its own, though, so you just have to adapt. Things will change on any given day."