I don't want to be living on reputation alone - Cavanagh
Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30
On Sunday week, Sean Cavanagh will likely make his 220th appearance for Tyrone. They have been complied over 15 seasons of commitment and controversy, boom and bust.
And there is, he admits, a "fair chance" that he's on his last lap.
All things going well, there could be only a handful of games left in his career. After the Division 2 final against Cavan, the straight route to the All-Ireland final would take just half a dozen outings.
Should Tyrone go all the way, he'll definitely retire. He most likely would have left last year had they continued their late run on the rails and secured Sam Maguire.
"There is always that wee bit in you, and I think it happens every sportsperson that you'll always want that wee bit more," he says.
"I suppose I've been around long enough to know that you shouldn't overstay your welcome either."
He's the last remaining link to the breakthrough Tyrone side of 2003 but time is catching up on him.
At 33, he's not the oldest player still on the circuit but there are miles on the clock. And there are the ever-increasing standards that help shuffle aching limbs towards the exit door.
Stats from the Tyrone GPS system brought home just how much more athletically powerful the game has become. Since 2013, top speeds across the squad were up by 10pc. The game is, Cavanagh acknowledges, moving away from the 30-somethings.
"I always had made the promise to myself and to my wife that I wouldn't want to see myself limping to the end either," he says. "It's not fair to do that on the team either that it would be come to the stage where you are living on a reputation.
"I don't want to be that sort of a person - it's not fair to anyone. I just said to myself as long as I'm fit and healthy and enjoying myself I would do it.
"As years go on it just gets tougher to maintain that level of training. I was comparing some of the GPS stats back in 2013 to where they are now, and in some instances there's like a 10pc speed difference, even from three years ago. It's up 10pc in terms of top speeds we are hitting; it's amazing to look at.
"That's the beauty of having the data, you realise how quick and powerful the game has become."
He sees it in himself now. Gone are the days when after training he'd stay back for some extra kicking. By the last whistle, there's nothing left.
"It just means that 10 years ago you were at the front of those running lines and now you are the back," he says.
"You have to put out so much more energy on any training night than you previously used to do. You used to come off the training field thinking 'oh there's still a bit left in the tank, I'll do a bit of kicking'.
"Now you are coming off the training field barely fit to put one foot in front of the other."
It's with that in mind that Cavanagh is left scratching his head at Kieran McGeeney's comments that GAA players shouldn't "kid ourselves we are at the elite end of sport".
And the Moy man points to the example of family friend and Aberdeen FC winger Niall McGinn who has starting taking tips from the Tyrone strength and conditioning programme.
"If Gaelic footballers aren't elite athletes. . . it frightens me to think what elite athletes are. Just us a team, you are on the field training three or four nights a week and then you are in the gym two or three times a week.
"A good friend of (my brother) Colm's is Niall McGinn, who is playing over in Aberdeen. He would be home from time to time and he'd call in, and we'd be chatting and comparing training schedules.
"We'd always be looking to see what brilliant training regime they would be on, and their strength and conditioning stuff seems to be way behind what we are currently doing.
"He's getting to the stage where he's looking at our stuff and going 'what are youse doing here, what's the secret, how are youse doing this?'
"I don't know how (McGeeney) is coming around those conclusions. I'm not sure how a person can output more energy out of their body."
There's still a kick in Cavanagh yet. And the lure of another medal of any description brought him back for 2016. He insists he's "around long enough to not expect a fairytale ending" but it hasn't been ruled out either.
"At the moment I'm still living the dream, I'm still loving playing football for Tyrone. I love every night at training and I love being part of the group," he says.
"But you have to be realistic that it is coming to an end; its coming to an end very soon. You relish every day as I am right now."