Saturday 3 December 2016

I'm almost afraid to walk away - Cavanagh

Published 23/11/2016 | 02:30

Sean Cavanagh leaving the field after his red card against Mayo. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Sean Cavanagh leaving the field after his red card against Mayo. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

When it came down to it for Seán Cavanagh, there was plenty of reasons to stay and effectively none to go.

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The Tyrone captain ran the numbers in his head and there was only one answer. Why would you walk away from a team that feels it can go all the way next year? Why would you leave when the various metrics used to measure performance show that despite your advancing years, you are more than holding your own?

And anyway, if you did go, what would you do with yourself?

Perhaps the last question was the most pertinent one. Once Cavanagh's body felt up to it and he got the blessing from home, the biggest issue was whether he could fill the gap that retiring would leave.

When you've been on the go since 2002, life after football carries with it a whole lot of unknowns. Staring into that chasm, Cavanagh admits, is uncomfortable business. So when you can kick that can down the road, why wouldn't you?

"That is really scary," said the Moy clubman. "It's something that I've thought about for the last couple of years and you are not sure what really does come next.

Sean Cavanagh in Croke Park yesterday promoting the GRMA (go raibh maith agat) scheme for GAA members. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Sean Cavanagh in Croke Park yesterday promoting the GRMA (go raibh maith agat) scheme for GAA members. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Surreal

"So yeah, that is part of it. Whenever going to training on Tuesday and Thursday night has been your life for 16 years or whatever at county level, it will be really surreal whenever it does happen that that's not there.

"It would be an interesting documentary for somebody to do, to follow guys during that initial stage of walking away. I've no doubt it will be difficult. Yeah, that's probably part of it, that I'm almost afraid to walk away.

"There was nothing telling me not to go back. That's the best way of putting it. And then when I look and see the age profile of the Tyrone team at the moment ... I remember guys that retired in 2002, 2004 or '07 and we went on and won All-Irelands the following year or other titles in other years and I thought it would be too much of a risk almost."

And that's the thing about Tyrone now. They believe again. Despite delivering a first Ulster title in six years this season, they still feel like they left something behind.

"Well we were disappointing against Mayo and Mayo probably could have easily won it the first day against Dublin. We probably feel as if we can compete with the top teams.

"Every year is a new year. We are going to be well-tested in the National League next year and that's something the team will embrace and I will be surprised if we don't compete at the top end of it."

There was, of course, the danger that he might have went out on a sour note. Had he walked away after being sent off in Tyrone's one-point All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo, it would have been an unfortunate curtain call on a decorated career. But Cavanagh insists that only winning a fourth All-Ireland title in 2016 would have pushed him out the door.

"Everyone has that fairy-tale thing of trying to go out on a high but it doesn't happen to virtually anyone in sport. But I had it in my head that if we were to get success this year I probably would have walked away but because it finished on that sour note … if we had won that game and lost the semi-final I probably would have come to the same conclusion to come back too."

The commitment required to compete now is "mental". Six days a week he's at something related to football. Other things must give way. "I'm trying to work out how (Wayne) Rooney has time to go on the rip because you don't really have that many days to do that or try and recover from a hangover."

Still, the numbers he's producing in training tell him he's still doing enough to survive. He's always felt like he could hold his own but seeing it in black and white is comforting.

"You get the WhatsApp message the following day about how you performed the previous day and everything is on a ranking basis. It's actually a really, really (good) indicator, because everyone will always tell you, when you get older and they are dead right, that you lose that yard of pace or whatever. But when you are actually able to quantify it with the numbers you are able to see how far you are off.

"You are given your top speed, your average speed, your total distance covered. There's seven or eight different indications. There is nowhere to hide any night you train. That gives me comfort to know I can still physically compete with the younger guys on the team. If that wasn't the case, if I was continually at the wrong end of the scale, I think you would be asking yourself questions."

Irish Independent

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